Best of June 2016

June was the month where Muhammad Ali passed away. There was a lot of stuff in the media but this piece here is a nice and unique perspective. It was also the month of the Orlando massacre, the forty year anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, and things started to kick off in Oaxaca again. Try these pieces on: erasure of gay and trans people of colour, particularly radical activists, in how the Stonewall riots are remembered; how only 20 years after overthrowing a totalitarian police state South Africa under the ANC is in many ways reverting to the old logic of control; and this shocking piece about the new teachers’ strikes in Oaxaca, ten years after the rebellion, and the appalling response from the state. (incidentally, yesterdays Guardian shamefully chose to run this Reuters article which portrays the Mexican army very favourably, focussing on their plans to deliver food aid to remote regions who are running out of food supplies because of the teachers’ blockades. It euphemistically refers to the attack on the protests and murder as “eight people died last month in clashes between police and the protesting teachers”).

The refugee crisis continues as does Europe’s shameful response. Here is an interview with an asylum seeker which touches on the conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live in Ireland and a revolution of sorts against the management in one of the residential centres and efforts to build a wider asylum seeker movement.

A data-supported critique of continued austerity policies in Greece, by Varoufakis, plus proposals for restructuring of debt. Preaching to the converted here – we all know austerity doesn’t work – but still a good resource when arguing with the unconverted or wilfully ignorant. And something you probably didn’t already know so much about, how investor-state dispute arbitration systems screw over countries to be benefit of profits of powerful private corporations and their corporate lawyers in this enraging article in the New Internationalist.

But finishing on an also angry but more hopeful note, a very interesting piece about student rent strikes in the UK and how they get at a financial system that distributes wealth from students in general to super-elite private schools which serve to reproduce britain’s almost feudal class structure. It also connects well with another piece – written in May, but anyhow – also at Novara about staff strikes at the same university and possibilities for some sort of class alliance between student rent strikers and precarious staff strikes to challenge the neoliberal university.

About POSTS OF THE MONTH: Consider this a Twitter feed on a timescale suitable for those of us who still have a life outside of the internet. Brief synopsis of blog posts and articles I found particularly good during the month but which I didnt have time to engage properly with.

International call for struggle and solidarity with Puerto Rico

A call for solidarity with Puerto Rico against the US-imposed debt regime from Junta Contra la Junta. No to colonialism, no to imperliasm, and especially no to the Oversight Board – the US committee that manages the colony. Translated by and shared from the Entitle blog.

“We are asking the international community and the Puerto Ricans of the diaspora to show solidarity with the situation that our country is now experiencing” 

Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States since 1898, currently faces an economic-financial and socio-political crisis with an economy that has contracted for 10 years, record-level outmigration and unemployment, and a massive debt of more than $70 billion, representing almost 70% of the county’s gross domestic product (GDP). Some have called it the “Greece of the Caribbean” and others have spoken of a potential humanitarian crisis.

The crisis is in important ways self-inflicted, thanks to decades of ill-conceived economic policies, as well as high levels of corruption. Yet it is undeniable that the colonial situation –expressed in US policies such as the mandatory use of the US naval fleet (the most expensive in the world) for imports to Puerto Rico, costing hundreds of millions annually; the triple-exempt tax status of Puerto Rico government bonds; the prohibition of any type of protection of local small businesses against large US corporations; and the inability to design foreign policies (including trade policy)– has also played an important role. The same can be said of the parasitic behaviour of the corporate financial sector which benefited from these policies. Any solution that does not address these issues, is therefore bound to fail.

PR1

In addition, there are strong arguments for not paying this debt in full. First and foremost, we need to recognize the social and ecological debt the United States has with Puerto Rico: from the US military bases that stole Puerto Rican land and water and, in cases like Vieques, created huge socio-economic and ecological devastation, to the economic returns and ecological damages generated by US corporations which have historically exploited Puerto Rican workers and land. Indeed, for decades, US corporations have operated from Puerto Rico without paying any taxes, repatriating more than $30 US billion annually.

Moreover, if, as the US Supreme Court recently confirmed, Puerto Rico’s legislative powers  emanate from the authority of the US Congress, then, the logical conclusion is that the debt incurred by the Puerto Rican government is actually owed by the US government which is the true authority. Another argument is that the vulture funds which have capitalised on the debt, bought it for a fraction of the amount they now seek to reap, with full knowledge of the dire economic situation and the risks faced in these investments. Finally, nearly half of the debt could be illegal, strengthening long-standing calls for a full audit of the debt before continued payment.

As a supposed ‘solution’ to this debt crisis, the US House of Representatives has passed a proposed law, cynically called PROMESA (promise, in spanish), designed by the Wall Street vultures precisely to guarantee that Puerto Rico pay this debt. The bill, which is supported by President Obama and by Hillary Clinton and is expected to be approved in the Senate, would lower the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers under 25 years of age, and would create a seven-member unelected board (to be appointed by the US Congress and the President).

This board will have powers to make all decisions about the Puerto Rican budget, make changes to the Puerto Rican public retirement system, sell Puerto Rican public properties, and approve in fast-track processes -over existing laws and the Puerto Rico constitution- any projects they deem priority for generating revenue. Amongst the projects that could be approved in such a fashion are a waste incinerator plant, which has faced strong opposition from local communities and environmental organisations, and a ‘super tube’ to transport natural gas across the island. The proposal contains no guarantee for a debt restructuring or bankruptcy process.

Besides laying bare the colonial status of Puerto Rico, PROMESA is a clear attempt to intensify the processes of dispossession of Puerto Rico’s resources and turn the island into an exclusive paradise for the super-rich. It also represents an imminent threat to the well-being and the lives of all Puerto Ricans. Various civil society organisations have begun organizing to mobilise against this project, while at the same time denouncing this colonial condition and demanding an end to it.

Cartoon of famed revolutionary nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos with the infamous Uncle Sam. Source: Acción Nacional Boricua Facebook page

One of these organisations, Junte contra la Junta has put out the following international call that seeks support in this struggle, which we reproduce below in English. The call is also available in Spanish,  Français,  Euskera,  Türkçe,  Português,  ქართული,  Кöрди.


International Call to Struggle and Solidarity against the Imposition of the Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in Puerto Rico

We invite the international community and the Puerto Rican diaspora to join us in solidarity in our country’s present situation. Let’s remember that Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. Ever since the invasion up to our present time, the United States and the colonial government of Puerto Rico have imposed a series of laws for economic and political gain (Foraker Act in 1900, Jones Act in 1917, Gag Law in 1947, Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act in 1953, Public Law 7 in 2009) which have disrupted the social, economic, and political reality of the oldest colony in the American continent.

They have submerged us in a desperate economic crisis, with the intent of continuing to steal our resources while the living conditions of our people continue to rapidly deteriorate, thus exacerbating the precariousness of healthcare and education, rising costs of living, rampant unemployment, and rising criminality rates. A massive emigration has reached unimaginable levels, while there is no stopping the delivery of our country to big interests for their businesses and vacations. Currently, Puerto Rico has become the Greece of the Caribbean, with a debt higher than 73 billion dollars owed to Wall Street’s financial capital. The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A), born out of H.R. 5278, pretends to bleed out the country for the benefit of the creditors (vultures). With the imposition of said board, true to the style of soft coups perpetrated by U.S. imperialism, the following would be established.

Protest banner against the Fiscal Oversight (Control) Board at the recent Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, June 12/2016. Source: juntecontralajunta Facebook page

The Oversight Board (P.R.O.M.E.S.A) in 12 points:

  1. The seven members who would compose the board would be chosen directly and solely by the Federal Government. Only one of the members would have to reside or own a business in Puerto Rico. Not even Puerto Rico’s Governor or the local Legislature would have any power within the board or over the decisions that the board could make.
  2. The board would last a minimum of 4 years. There is no yearly limit established.
  3. The board would control the entire budget and laws of the country.
  4. It could render ineffective, at any moment, any laws already approved.
  5. It could sell assets (goods, properties, buildings, and public corporations, among others).
  6. It would decide which laws would pass and which wouldn’t, using criteria based on financial impact, even if it means a deterioration of the lives, health, and social resources of the people.
  7. It would have the power to freeze job vacancies as well as toreduce and fire personnel.
  8. The board rejects laws and measures related to overtime pay.
  9. It would submit the population aged 20-25 to economic exploitation through the imposition of a minimum wage of $4.25 per hour.
  10. It would eliminate the right to strike.
  11. It would not include economic incentives. It would not bring equality in Medicare and other federal funds. It would NOT protect retirement.
  12. It would protect exclusively the economic interests of the creditors (vultures).

We call on the Puerto Rican diaspora in every corner of the world, social movements, and internationalist political organizations to show solidarity and organize against the Oversight Board. How? Visit https://juntecontralajunta.wordpress.com and stay up to date. Find information and agitation tools. Organize your neighborhood and your community, doing teach-ins and information sessions, distributing newsletters, protesting and marching against the Oversight Board. ¡Let’s build a Resistance!

No to the Oversight Board! No to colonialism! No to imperialism!

Contacts:

 Junte contra la Junta (Puerto Rico)

https://juntecontralajunta.wordpress.com

lageteantesqueladeuda@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/juntecontralajunta/

twitter: JunteContraLaJunta @NoALaJunta

Comité Boricua en la Diaspora – ComBo– (New York, USA)

facebook.com/comiteboricua

comiteboricua@gmail.com

decolonizepr@gmail.com (Chicago, USA)

 

 

Press release from Greenpeace NL on leaking the TTIP docs

A great coup by Greenpeace, vindicating what the Stop TTIP campaign has been saying all along. My only fear now is that the establishment media with their love of balanced journalism surpress the main issue and  turn this into, well is this deal bad for Europe or is it actually good. Renewed pressure is needed to get the message out that the fact that it was negotiated in secret makes it democratically illegitimate and the whole thing needs to be scrapped. Here is the press release from Greenpeace Netherlands, posted originally at greenpeace.org. Share far and wide and join in your nearest Stop TTIP campaign if you haven’t already.

Greenpeace Netherlands releases TTIP documents

Press release – 2 May, 2016

Amsterdam, 2 May 2016 – http://www.ttip-leaks.org Today Greenpeace Netherlands releases secret documents of the EU-US TTIP negotiations. On http://www.ttip-leaks.org the documents will be made available for everyone to read, because democracy needs transparency.

“These documents make clear the scale and scope of the trade citizens of the United States and the European Union are being asked to make in pursuit of corporate profits. It is time for the negotiations to stop, and the debate to begin.

Should we be able to act when we have reasonable grounds to believe our health and wellbeing is at risk, or must we wait until the damage is done?

Were our governments serious in Paris when they said they would do what was necessary to protect the planet, and keep climate change under 1.5 degrees?

Environmental protection should not be seen as a barrier to trade, but as a safeguard for our health, and the health of future generations.

We call on citizens, civil society, politicians and businesses to engage in this debate openly and without fear. We call on the negotiators to release the latest, complete text to facilitate that discussion, and we ask that the negotiations be stopped until these questions, and many more have been answered. Until we can fully engage in a debate about the standards we and our planet need and want” – Sylvia Borren, Executive Director Greenpeace Netherlands.

Which documents are we releasing?

The documents that Greenpeace Netherlands has released comprise about half of the draft text as of April 2016, prior to the start of the 13th round of TTIP negotiations between the EU and the US (New York, 25-29 April 2016). As far as we know the final document will consist of 25 to 30 chapters and many extensive annexes. The EU Commission published an overview stating that they have now 17 consolidated texts. This means the documents released by Greenpeace Netherlands encompass 3/4 of the existing consolidated texts.[1]

Consolidated texts are those where the EU and US positions on issues are shown side by side. This step in the negotiation process allows us to see the areas where the EU and US are close to agreement, and where compromises and concessions would still need to be made. Of the documents released by Greenpeace Netherlands, in total 248 pages, 13 chapters offer for the first time the position of the US.

How have the documents been handled?

The documents we received had clearly been treated to make it possible to identify individual copies. Prior to release they have been retyped and identifying features removed. We have not altered content of the documents and have preserved the layout. For this reason we are not offering access to the original documents.

How do you know the documents are genuine?

After receiving the documents both Greenpeace Netherlands and Rechercheverbund NDR, WDR und Süddeutsche Zeitung, a renowned German investigative research partnership have analysed them and compared them to existing documents. The Rechercheverbund, which consists of different German media outlets, has covered, amongst other big stories, the Snowden leaks and the recent Volkswagen emissions scandals.

What are the first conclusions from the documents?

From an environmental and consumer protection point of view four aspects are of serious concern.

Long standing environmental protections appear to be dropped

None of the chapters we have seen reference the General Exceptions rule. This nearly 70-year-old rule enshrined in the GATT agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO), allows nations to regulate trade “to protect human, animal and plant life or health” or for “the conservation of exhaustible natural resources” [2]. The omission of this regulation suggests both sides are creating a regime that places profit ahead of human, animal and plant life and health.

Climate protection will be harder under TTIP

The Paris Climate Agreement makes one point clear: We must keep temperature increase under 1.5 degrees to avoid a climate crisis with effects on billions of people worldwide. Trade should not be excluded from climate action. But nothing indicating climate protection can be found in the obtained texts. Even worse, the scope for mitigation measures is limited by provisions of the chapters on Regulatory Cooperation or Market Access for Industrial Goods. [3] As an example these proposals would rule out regulating the import of CO2 intensive fuels such as oil from Tar Sands.

The end of the precautionary principle

The precautionary principle, enshrined in the EU Treaty[4], is not mentioned in the chapter on Regulatory Cooperation, nor in any other of the obtained 12 chapters. On the other hand the US demand for a ‘risk based’ approach that aims to manage hazardous substances rather than avoid them, finds its way into various chapters. This approach undermines the ability of regulators to take preventive measures, for example regarding controversial substances like hormone disrupting chemicals.

Opening the door for corporate takeover

While the proposals threaten environmental and consumer protection, big business gets what it wants. Opportunities to participate in decision making are granted to corporations to intervene at the earliest stages of the decision making process.

While civil society has had little access to the negotiations, there are many instances where the papers show that industry has been granted a privileged voice in important decisions. [5] The leaked documents indicate that the EU has not been open about the high degree of industry influence. The EU’s recent public report [6] has only one minor mention of industry input, whereas the leaked documents repeatedly talk about the need for further consultations with industry and explicitly mention how industry input has been collected.

END

Notes

[1] The documents we are releasing are

[chapter 1.1.] National Treatment and Market Access for Goods

This chapter addresses trade in goods between EU and US.

[chapter 1.2.] Agriculture

This chapter deals with trade in agricultural products and illustrates EU-US disagreements on matters such as genetically modified organisms.

[chapter 1.3.] Cross-Border Trade in Services

This chapter addresses trade in the service industry sector.

[chapter 1.4] Electronic Communications

This chapter addresses Internet and telecommunications issues.

[chapter 1.5.] Government Procurement

This chapter deals with purchases by government entities within the EU and US.

[chapter 1.6.] Annex Government Procurement

The annex of the previous chapter, with additional information about a US-proposed chapter on anti-corruption.

[chapter 1.7.] Customs and Trade and Facilitation

This chapter addresses differences among various customs regulations.

[chapter 1.8.] EU – US revised tariff offers

These are the respective positions regarding tariffs.

[chapter 2.1.] Regulatory Cooperation

In this controversial chapter EU and US aim for joint regulations on products and services, for example for food and cosmetics safety.

[chapter 2.2.] Technical Barriers to Trade

This chapter addresses differences between EU-US regulations and the ways in which they affect trade.

[chapter 2.3.] Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

This chapter deals with the protection of plant and animal health.

[chapter 3.1.] Competition

This chapter deals with competition between parties.

[chapter 3.2.] Small and Medium-sized Enterprise

This chapter addresses enterprises smaller than multi-national corporations.

[chapter 3.3.] State-owned Enterprise

This chapter addresses nationalised enterprises.

[chapter 4.] Dispute Settlement

This chapter deals with resolving disagreements between the EU and the US.

[chapter 5.] Tactical State of Play

Not intended for public viewing, this document describes EU-US disagreements and shows how much private industry influences the TTIP negotiations.

[2] Most of the WTO’s agreements were the outcome of the 1986-94 Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. Some, including GATT 1994, were revisions of texts that previously existed.

[3] Nothing in the relevant Articles 10 (Import and Export Restrictions) and 12 (Import and Export Licensing) of the Chapter on National Treatment and Market Access for Goods shows that necessary trade related measures to protect the climate would be allowed as a trade restriction under GATT Article XX (see footnote 1).

[4] “The precautionary principle is detailed in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (EU). It aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative decision-taking in the case of risk. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Al32042

[5] e.g. “While the US showed an interest, it hastened to point out that it would need to consult with its industry regarding some of the products” – Chapter ‘Tactical State of Play’, paragraph 1.1, Agriculture.

[6] ‘The Twelfth Round of Negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)’ http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2016/march/tradoc_154391.pdf

Contacts:

Dutch media please contact Greenpeace Netherlands, +31 (0)6 21 29 68 95, persvoorlichting@greenpeace.nl

Brussels media please contact Greenpeace EU press desk, +32 (0)2 274 1911, pressdesk.eu@greenpeace.org

International media please contact Greenpeace International press desk (24 hours), +31 (0)20 718 2470, pressdesk.int@greenpeace.org