As if poor Haiti didn’t have enough trouble, President Obama plans to send George W Bush, the man who took the disaster of Katrina and made it into a top-notch tragedy of epic proportions just to destroy a bastion of GOP political opponents, to Haiti to help straighten things out.
President Obama is asking his two immediate predecessors – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – to come together to lead the nation’s humanitarian and relief efforts to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake that has ravaged the Caribbean island.
The partnership is expected to be announced by the White House in the coming days, after officials have a better handle on the full scope of the devastation. Mr. Obama called Mr. Bush on Wednesday, aides to both men said, and Mr. Bush agreed to do whatever he could to help.
OK, so Clinton will be there, too. The Dynamic Duo? I don’t think so. Clinton knows govt and could help lobby for aid and clear away red tape. All Bush knos how to do in a disaster is stand in front of it and promise money he has no intention of delivering. So “whatever he can do to help” means photo-ops and empty promises?
The Bush’s truly rotten trade deal with Panama and the Democratic leadership that is hip-deep in the drive to make sure it passes.
David Sirota has another round-up of the latest on the secret trade deal the Democratic leadership is developing with Bush out of the range of cameras or witnesses – or its own rank and file. The deal as a whole involves Peru, Panama, South Korea and Columbia(sp) Colombia, with different provisions that apply to each country separately as well as a group of provisions they hold in common. Sirota lists half-a-dozen articles and they’re all disturbing but I want to key on the one that is most indefensible: the deal with Panama.
Economist and investment/globalization specialist Peter Riggs of the Tax Justice Network, which describes itself as an outfit devoted to “combating tax evasion by corporations and the rich”, took a good long look at the Panama trade deal. After noting that the Panama and Peru deals have been considered “relatively non-controversial and will probably pass”, he explains that the deal with Panama has nothing to do with trade.
Indeed, the proposed bilateral trade agreement with Panama has skated through without much attention at all. But the agreement with Panama is highly significant. The problem is, the trade agreement with Panama isn’t really about trade. It’s about foreign investor rights, money laundering, and tax dodging. And the United States should in no way reward this notorious offshore tax haven with a “gold star” Free Trade Agreement.
Panama has two major areas of “economic comparative advantage” in the region. One, obviously, is the Canal. But the other is much more insidious-and major U.S. corporations are hoping that no one draws any attention to it.
Panama’s other economic comparative advantages are in the area of tax and banking secrecy, and the ease with which U.S. companies can create subsidiaries in Panama for purposes of dodging taxes.
Panama is already home to a lot of U.S. corporate subsidiaries. How many? Tens of thousands of U.S. corporations have hung out a shingle-or should we say, set up an email box-in that country.
Panama boasts a total of 400,000 registered corporations-second only to Hong Kong as a home to corporations and corporate subsidiaries. Subsidiaries whose sole purpose, in many cases, is to help transnational companies avoid taxes.
In the last few years, Panama has been consistently condemned by the G-7’s Financial Action Task Force for “resisting international norms in combating tax evasion and money laundering.” The Clinton Administration several times “vigorously expressed its concern about loose corporate accountability standards in Panama, and the murkiness of the Panamanian banking sector.” But the Bush Administration’s deal with Panama – a deal the Democratic leadership is pushing hard – is not only enshrining those low standards and “murkiness” in law, it’s going one step further and allowing corporations to evade both trade laws and courts.
[W]ith the text of the Free Trade Agreement as it now stands, Panamanian investors would get new rights in the United States, with no new disclosure responsibilities at home. We have a situation where it is very, very easy to set up a business subsidiary in Panama. Panama’s “corporate” specialists advertise the country has having the most favorable and flexible incorporation laws in the world, in addition to some of the strictest banking secrecy laws available.
So the FTA will just encourage more U.S. businesses to pursue a strategy for tax purposes, designed solely to evade taxes in the United States. But then the text of the Panama agreement allows corporations and investors with a “substantial business presence” in Panama-that is, registered subsidiaries of multinational corporations-to use provisions found in Chapter 10 of the agreement to bring a claim against U.S. laws using an international investor tribunal. Panamanian-registered corporations would be able to bypass the U.S. courts system altogether in the case of an investment dispute involving the United States.
That’s right, Panamanian corporations – as well as Panamanian subsidiaries of U.S. corporations – would be able to bypass the U.S. legal system, and take their claims to an international investor tribunal. Historically, these tribunals have proven much more sympathetic to corporate interests than they have to public-interest regulation.
The case is heard before an ad-hoc panel of three international investment lawyers, working without a system of formal legal precedent. Panamanian investors would be empowered to challenge U.S. federal, state, or local laws, citing an “expropriation” of expected profits or a failure to provide Panamanian investors with a “minimum standard of treatment.”
Sirota explains what this means.
So, if U.S. federal, state, or local laws tried to close tax loopholes or prevent corporations from evading taxes through tax havens like Panama, those corporations could cite their subsidiaries in Panama and the Panama Free Trade Agreement as grounds to have an international tribunal strike those laws down. Such cases have already been brought under NAFTA by corporations seeking to strike down American environmental laws. But thanks to Panama’s tax haven status, the Panama deal would take such abuse to a whole new level.
Charlie Rangel has a long and distinguished history in the House, but his overt advocacy for and determination to pass the FTA is putting a blot on his reputation he’ll be hard-put to erase. He has publicly announced that he intends to see the FTA passed whether the rank-and-file like it or not, and that he will ram it through over their objections and the objections of its progressive opponents no matter what.
I never thought, a few years ago, that I would ever see Charlie Rangel pimping for corporate crooks but what else can you call this?
There is absolutely no way to explain away the Democratic leadership’s actions over this bill as anything other than a deliberate collusion with the Bush White House to clear the way for more corporate theft of the public Treasury by legalizing tax evasion for multinationals. There is no possible excuse that can be made for their rabid support of the Panama “trade” deal when its sole purpose is to enable corporate thievery. It can’t by any measure you like be rationally justified as an “accident”, incompetence, or electoral fear.
Would any of our Democratic apologists like to try explaining why we shouldn’t dump the Dems over this?
Like everybody else, I found it amusing – and sad – that the current president, persona-non-grata in 90% of the world’s countries and merely tolerated by the rest, had to flee to the home of an infamous dictator like Enver Hoxha to find a sympathetic audience. But then today, Peter Lucas – a political reporter who just finished a book about Albania – pointed out in a Globe Op-Ed that it wasn’t really Bush they were cheering. It was the US – and Bill Clinton.
Albania’s love affair with the United States did not begin overnight. It started when President Woodrow Wilson, after World War I, stood up to the victorious nations of Europe and insisted that Albania, made up of one of the oldest peoples of Europe, was a true nation and that its borders had to be preserved and protected.
Back then the so-called victorious Great Powers — Britain, France, and Italy — wanted to divide Albania up among its neighbors, as a sort of reward for fighting and defeating the German/Austrian coalition.
Serbia was slated for a piece here, Greece a chunk there, and Italy a section of the coast. But for Wilson standing up for Albania, the tiny, poor and defenseless country would have disappeared. So it is no small wonder than many an Albanian boy born after 1919 was named Wilson.
Moved by the crowds of admirers, no doubt (the NYT says he “was treated like a rock star”), Bush got so confused he sounded like one – a drug-addled, not too bright rock star. Keith Richards, say.
The future of Kosovo is of paramount interest here; some Kosovo residents traveled to Tirana to join the crowd. The United Nations Security Council is considering a plan for independence, but Russia objects. On Saturday in Rome, the president agreed that there should be a deadline to end the United Nations talks, saying: “In terms of a deadline, there needs to be one. It needs to happen.”
But on Sunday, Mr. Bush tried to backtrack when asked when that deadline might be. “First of all, I don’t think I called for a deadline,” Mr. Bush said, during a press appearance with Mr. Berisha in the courtyard of a government ministry building. He was reminded that he had.
“I did?” he asked, sounding surprised. “What exactly did I say? I said deadline? O.K., yes, then I meant what I said.”
Uh, how can you mean what you say when you don’t even remember what it was?
The reporters laughed.
Our press. You like ’em, you keep ’em.
According to the BBC, the Emperor “received a hero’s welcome in Albania”.
Reminds me of a story.
Once upon a time a man came to a NY nightclub for dinner and a show. He was arrogant, pompous, loud, and abusive. He threw his meal on the floor because he claimed it was undercooked, he yelled at the waiters and called them names, he spit out his wine, and he told the people at the next table they were low-class morons.
The manager, in an apparent attempt to mollify the man, sent a bottle of his best champagne to the table. When the man continued to be disruptive, the manager sent a maitre d’ over with a cheesecake – which the club was famous for – on the house. Still the man wouldn’t stop being offensive to everyone around him. Finally, the manager took off his own Rolex and sent it over to the man.
A waiter asked, “How can you give such an obnoxious jerk all those expensive gifts?”
The manager answered, “Well, he must be somebody’s father and I’m so glad he’s not mine, he can have anything I’ve got.”
I keep hoping somebody somewhere is going to hold the Emperor’s feet to the fire, and I thought maybe the G-8 conference on global warming would be the place. Host Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and a fire-breather when it comes to the environment, started out pushing Bush harder – a lot harder – than our home-grown Bubble Boy is used to. She was dead-set on specific commitments: actual numbers attached to real targets with specific end-dates. No more of these vague “voluntary” agreements from the US – the biggest polluter on the planet – that leave corporations free to spew as much poison into the air as they feel like without consequences or any kind of realistic plan to reduce harmful emissions in, like, this century.
Alas, it was not to be. Bush wanted the spotlight moved away from the US and onto the next two biggest polluters, China and India, and he got what he wanted by making another vague promise to “enter negotiations” before – get this – 2009.
The United States agreed Thursday to “consider seriously” a European plan to combat global warming by cutting in half worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, averting a trans-Atlantic deadlock at a meeting here of the world’s richest industrial nations.
The compromise, worked out in tough negotiations between the United States and Germany, also endorses President Bush’s recent proposal to bring together the world’s largest emitting countries, including China and India, to set their own national goals for reducing emissions.
The agreement reached Thursday does not include a mandatory 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050, a key provision sought by Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor does it commit the United States or Russia to specific reductions.
Coming from the man who has made a million promises in the past 6 years and kept two of them – tax cuts and the permanent occupation of Iraq – this one is worth nothing. Less than nothing. Bush, complaining of a convenient tummy ache, wasn’t even there for the announcement.
(Cartoon by Jim Borgman)
Scott Horton, Harper’s worthy answer to Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald, quotes some of the European press on the VATech shooting. Unlike the coverage here, it ain’t about immigration or Cho’s anger or the school’s slow response or the heartbreaking stories of the victims’ lives. It’s about one thing: the guns. Excerpts:
Hamburg’s Der Spiegel runs a summary of press reactions across Europe and finds that Charlton Heston and the NRA are repeatedly singled out as responsible for the tragedy. “The shooting at Virginia Tech is the result of America’s woeful lack of serious gun control laws.
Madrid’s El País, puts the blame squarely on the National Rifle Association and reproduces a photograph of Charlton Heston brandishing a rifle. “[C]ontrol measures,“ writes that paper, ”are systematically challenged by an abusive interpretation of the Second Amendment….”
The conservative London Times writes “But why, we ask, do Americans continue to tolerate gun laws and a culture that seems to condemn thousands of innocents to death every year, when presumably, tougher restrictions, such as those in force in European countries, could at least reduce the number?”
Horton, a lawyer, concludes:
Around the world, America is being portrayed as a land of wanton violence, obsessed with firearms—as the locus of a bizarre death cult. The grounds for this are not simply what happened at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School, but the way the American public has reacted to these tragedies.
Or not reacted. Despite the furor after Columbine, absolutely NOTHING was done to control the sale of deadly weapons. The Pub Congress refused to extend the assault weapons ban, and even relatively painless strengthening of gun registration laws were rejected practically without discussion. In fact, gun laws have actually been loosened in the 12 years of Republican rule.