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4/28/15

Wall Street and banking industry: Democratic leaders should Endorse the Warren Wall Street reform agenda

At a time when the corporate shills in the Democratic party are increasingly voting with Republicans in Congress to gut the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, Senator Warren spoke the truth about what’s really going on. "Republicans claim loudly and repeatedly that they support competitive markets,” she said, “but their approach to financial regulation is pure crony capitalism that helps the rich and the powerful protect and expand their power and leaves everyone else behind.

Most importantly, the senator from Massachusetts laid out a simple, no-nonsense agenda to complete the “unfinished business” of Wall Street reform .
* Hold financial institutions and individuals accountable for cheating customers. Stop offering “deferred prosecution” get-out-of-jail-free cards and giving special status to companies that were already caught breaking the law. Impose mandatory fines equal to the profits from illegal conduct. Make the governors of the Federal Reserve personally approve all settlement deals, and close the loophole that prevents the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from protecting people buying a car.
* Stop financial institutions from passing risk on to taxpayers. Cap the size of big banks and break them up if they grow too large. Restrict the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority so banks know they won’t get a bailout for bad behavior. Pass the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act to reinstate the barrier between commercial and investment banking that once prevented financial crises for decades.
* Change tax policies that encourage excessive risk-taking and financial instability. Reduce risky and pointless speculation with a small sales tax on certain financial transactions, like the one proposed by Representative Keith Ellison and backed by more than 65,000 CREDO members.6 Force companies to rely less on debt by ending the tax-deductibility of interest payments, and close the loophole that allows big companies to write off billions in bonuses for top executives.
* Create simple, structural rules for regulating the shadow banking sector. Companies that act just like banks but aren’t regulated like banks pose a massive risk to the financial system, and it is time regulators took the threat seriously.
"The fight over financial reform can't be over to back up a little or to back up a lot," Warren told reporters. "It has to be about finishing the job. She’s right – and so we need to demand that every Democrat get behind this agenda and commit to making it law.

EU-Digest



4/27/15

EU Parliament: More than 30,000 lobbyists and counting: Brussels under corporate siege

When the Polish MEP Róża Thun was elected five years ago, she thought the job would be fairly straightforward. She hadn't reckoned with the lobbyists.

Take mobile phone charges. She saw the fact that EU citizens pay eye-watering sums in other EU states as an anomaly that needed fixing. But it wasn't that simple. "We had telephone companies and lobbyists who started to invade us," she recalls. "They obviously didn't want to reduce roaming charges because it would hit them in the pocket."

To stroll around the vast, ugly and permanent building site that is Brussels' European district is to brush up against the power of the lobbies. Every office block, every glass and steel construction within a kilometre of the EU Commission council and parliament is peopled by some of the globe's biggest corporate names.

Thousands of companies, banks, law firms, PR consultancies and trade associations are there to bend ears and influence the regulations and laws that shape Europe's single market, fix trade deals, and govern economic and commercial behaviour in the European Union of 507 million people.

Lobbying is a billion-euro industry in Brussels. According to Corporate Europe Observatory, a watchdog campaigning for greater transparency, there are at least 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels, nearly matching the 31,000 staff employed by the European commission and making it second only to Washington in the concentration of those seeking to affect legislation. Lobbyists sign a transparency register run by the parliament and the commission, though it is not mandatory.

By some estimates, they influence 75% of legislation. In principle, lobbyists give politicians information and arguments during the decision-making process. In practice, the corridors of the parliament often teem with individuals, who meet MEPs in their offices or in open spaces such as the "Mickey Mouse bar" (nicknamed so because of the shape of its seats) inside the parliament.

They explain their concerns, provide a "position paper", and send in suggestions for amendments to legislative proposals. Of course, the final decision is taken by MEPs. But examples are legion of the tail wagging the dog.

Lobbying is such a crucial part of the climate in Brussels that it has spawned manuals, a documentary (Who Really Runs the EU?) and even "the worst lobby awards". Not surprisingly, the biggest movers and shakers agitate for the biggest industries with the most to gain – and lose – from European legislation.

Basically, if you are in Bruxelles or Washington - the lobbyists have taken over and politics have not much to do with Democracy anymore.

EU-Digest

US Politics: The Super Rich Have a New Way to Buy Elections - by Robert Faturechi and Jonathan Stray

The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters.

More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players.

A growing number of political committees known as super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records. During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million—16 percent of money raised by all super PACs—went to committees dominated by one donor. That was quadruple their 2012 share.

The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.

The trend may continue into 2016. National Review recently reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family.

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs. Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate.

Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers”—volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns. Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”

Read more: The Super Rich Have a New Way to Buy Elections - The Daily Beast

Greece - Power Play: Tsipras ready for reforms, to replace Varoufakis in bailout talks

As Greece moved closer toward bankruptcy, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seemed more eager to strike a deal with his international creditors.

Tsipras was finally ready to cut pensions, speed up privatizations and increase Value Added Tax (VAT) in luxury islands like Mykonos and Santorin. These proposals would be soon presented to the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), media reports said on Monday.

"We need to find a solution by mid-May," Nikos Filis, parliamentary representative of Tsipras' party Syriza said on Greek radio.

Tsipras was finally ready to negotiate after he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem in separate phone calls on Sunday. He then met Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, causing the media in Greece to speculate that Varoufakis might eventually be removed from the position of chief negotiator in Greece's talks with its creditors.

Tsipras' decision could be traced back to a Eurogroup meeting in Riga last week, where eurozone finance ministers accused Varoufakis of being a "gambler" and leading his country in the wrong direction. "They want his head," said a headline in the Greek daily Ta Nea.

Euclid Tsakalotos, the deputy foreign minister, would henceforth lead all bailout talks for Greece, Tsipras said. However, Varoufakis would still remain finance minister, although his close confidante was being replaced with Nikos Chouliarakis, who has worked with the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank before.

Read more: Tsipras ready for reforms, to replace Varoufakis in bailout talks | News | DW.DE | 27.04.2015

Technology - Google: Would Thomas Jefferson Work At GoogleX? - by David Ewing Duncan

The government needs brilliant minds reinventing it with the same urgency they use to create apps and nano-bots. How the tech world stole America’s biggest thinkers.
As Americans brace for another presidential election, availing a process invented over 200 years ago, where are this century’s counterparts of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton?

They’re working for Google or Facebook, or they’re founding start-ups to build the world’s first flying car—or bioengineering super cells to repair injured brains.

What they are not doing is devising new and creative ways to improve the body politic. For many of our best and brightest, government these days feels obsolete. Politics is creaky and dysfunctional, or is something they seldom think about.

President Barack Obama has drawn some creative thinkers to the White House. These include Megan Smith, who left Google last fall to become the nation’s chief technology officer, and former Facebook engineering director David Recordon who became director of White House information technology.

Most brainiacs, however, head for Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, Kendall Square in Cambridge, and dozens of other places that are not on the Potomac River. Even those engaged in the White House and elsewhere tend to be focused on technology and not on rebooting politics for the 21st century.

Possibly the arrival of more cool kids in D.C.—particularly in Congress—will make government and political theory fashionable again, like it was in the late 1700s and early 1960s. Hip or not, it would be smart for our greatest minds to look up now and then from building drones and cancer-killing nanobots so that the peanuts in government can be moved perhaps an inch or two.

Read more: Would Thomas Jefferson Work At GoogleX? - The Daily Beast

Iran: How a Nuclear Deal Could Bring Democracy to Iran - by Peter Beinart

Last week, Akbar Ganji wrote one of the most important essays published since the signing of the framework nuclear deal with Iran earlier this month. It’s partly important because of who Ganji is. Imprisoned in 2001 for accusing Iranian officials of orchestrating the murder of government critics, he penned a manifesto from jail calling for Iran to replace theocracy with democracy. After being released and leaving Iran, he launched a hunger strike on behalf of Iranian political prisoners in 2009. He’s been called Iran’s “preeminent political dissident.”

But it’s also important because of what Ganji says. In the essay, he calls the framework deal “a great victory for Iran and Iranians, if we look at it from a democracy angle.” Why? Because “when a nation such as Iran is threatened by the US and Israel for over two decades, and suffers from the most crippling economic sanctions in history, democracy becomes an impossible dream for its people, who live instead in terror and fear of war.”

 If the United States and its allies “are truly interested in the development of democracy in Iran,” he continues, “they should set aside military threats and economic sanctions. Peace and economic well-being is directly linked with democracy.”

In those sentences, Ganji challenges one of the most damaging myths in modern American foreign policy: that via war and cold war, America promotes freedom.

As with so much else involving today’s GOP, that myth is connected to the myth of Ronald Reagan. As hawks tell it, Reagan entered the White House in 1981, built up the American military, sent arms to anti-communist rebels, refused to negotiate arms-control deals, called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and, presto, the Berlin Wall fell. It was America’s escalation of the Cold War that liberated Eastern Europe.

The lesson isn’t that American leaders should never criticize dictatorships. They should. But they should also remember that imposing sanctions and threatening war rarely strengthen human rights. It’s usually the reverse. First, threats of war make it easier for dictators to discredit their opponents. In Ganji’s words, “The Islamic Republic’s dictatorship used the threat of military action [from Israel and the United States] to increase its repression of the Iranian people, accusing the opposition of treason and being turncoats.” Second, sanctions tend to impoverish the very middle class best able to create and sustain democratic change.

Sometimes, as in apartheid South Africa, dissidents endorse sanctions anyway. But even in South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress only endorsed sanctions aimed at improving human rights. Most of the sanctions imposed on Iran make no pretense of that; they’re simply designed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Third, and most obviously, America’s wars themselves often threaten human rights.

In the midst of genocide, “humanitarian war,” coupled with diplomacy and long-term peacekeeping, can sometimes bring peace, as it did in Bosnia and Kosovo. But more often, bombing an oppressed people simply makes their plight worse. 

Read more: How a Nuclear Deal Could Bring Democracy to Iran - The Atlantic

US Corporations Political Power: How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy - by Lee Drutman

US Lobbyists
Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million).

 It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.

Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.

Read more: How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy - The Atlantic

4/26/15

EU telecoms reform to address competition from WhatsApp, Skype - by Julia Fioretti

The European Commission will take into account increased competition from cable operators and alternative services such as WhatsApp (FB.O) when it overhauls Europe's telecoms rules next year, a move that will be cheered by the telecoms industry.

A draft seen by Reuters of the Commission's strategy for creating a digital single market says telecom operators compete with "over-the-top" services "without being subject to the same regulatory regime".
"It is necessary to design a fair and future-proof regulatory environment for all services," the document says.

The bloc's telecom firms such as Orange (ORAN.PA) and Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE) have long called for lighter-touch regulation, after years of declining revenues and competition from new entrants, to enable them to invest in network upgrades.

Telecom companies point to increased competition from services such as Skype (owned by Microsoft (MSFT.O)) and online messaging as a reason for easing the regulatory burden.

Considering Skype, or any other "voice-over-IP" application, as a substitute for traditional phone services could lead to those companies being subject to the same obligations as traditional operators, such as offering emergency calls.

The new European executive, which took office in November, has made investment in superfast broadband a priority. But incumbent telecom operators say the current set of rules does not provide incentives to invest in their networks. The Commission will unveil its proposals for an overhaul of the telecoms framework in 2016, the document states. Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip is expected to unveil his digital single market strategy on May 6.


Read more: EU telecoms reform to address competition from WhatsApp, Skype | Reuters

Europeans Fight U.S. Trade Deal With Fear of McHospitals, Fracking Under Eiffel Tower (and they should)-by Leo Cendrowicz

It will afflict Europe with American abominations on an almost Biblical scale: cheap and dirty food, toxic waste, mind-numbing movies and television, gas-guzzling cars, all while scrapping healthcare and erasing labour rights.

That, at least, is how angry European activists are painting a planned trade deal between the European Union and the United States. A legion of horrors has been evoked about an agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which is currently under negotiation.

Dozens of groups have sprung up to oppose the planned pact, like Stop TTIP (whose website describes the deal as “a corporate coup that will put power and money into the hands of corporations and away from the elected government.”) and No TTIP (“TTIP would lock in the privatization of our public services, erode government protection for people and the environment and threaten a new round of unjust economic reforms forced on the poor”).

U.S. and E.U. officials are currently in New York this week for their ninth round of talks to hammer out the details of deal. But on Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Madrid, Helsinki, Warsaw, Prague and other cities in simultaneous colorful demonstrations against TTIP.

Europe’s anti-TTIP campaigners characterize the plans as a diabolical plot to allow the likes of McDonalds to take over hospitals, Exxon to frack under the Eiffel Tower, and Google to take over parliaments. “It’s the most contested acronym in Europe,” admits Cecilia Malmström, the E.U. trade commissioner, who is in charge of the European side of the negotiations.

Work on TTIP will continue for the moment. Planned for over a decade before its formal launch in 2013, the negotiations are expected to last at least another two years. But the real test will come when the ratification process begins in European and American legislatures – some 898 amendments have so far been proposed in the European Parliament’s TTIP wish list.

 If anger continues to swell, it could dilute TTIP or derail it completely. If that happens, TTIP’s many opponents would celebrate. Whether their interests would be served by the trade pact’s demise is another matter. But even TTIP’s supporters accept that in its current form, the agreement has become a lightning rod for almost every European discontent.

Read more: Europeans Fight U.S. Trade Deal With Fear of McHospitals, Fracking Under Eiffel Tower - The Daily Beast

′Turkey is shooting itself in the foot′- by Thomas Seibert

 Turkey has rarely launched rhetorical attacks on so many different international players in such a short time. The pope came in for his share, as did the European Parliament.

Then it was Austria's turn, before Germany, France, Russia and the USA were also all verbally assaulted - in a series of foreign office statements issued at the rate of almost one a minute - for the positions they have taken in the debate on the correct word to give to the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman authorities one hundred years ago.

In the case of Germany, Ankara stressed that the Turkish people would neither forgive nor forget the words of President Joachim Gauck, who has spoken of an Armenian genocide. At the same time, the Turkish government warned the German parliament in Berlin against passing a planned resolution that also speaks of a genocide against the Armenians from 1915 to 1917.

The presidents of the USA, Russia and France - Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande - drew Ankara's ire because they also mentioned the massacre. And Obama didn't even use the "G-word" out of consideration for his country's important NATO ally.

Read more: ′Turkey is shooting itself in the foot′ | News | DW.DE | 26.04.2015

Nepal: Top Google executive killed in Nepal quake, 100s of foreign tourists missing

The head of privacy at the secretive Google X facility was one of the 18 people killed in an avalanche at Mount Everest, triggered by the Nepal earthquake. Hundreds of foreign nationals are also feared dead or are missing.

Dan Fredinburg, 33, was part of the Jagged Globe expedition team that was tackling Mount Everest when the 7.9-magnidue quake shook Nepal, according to Jagged Globe and his family. He died of fatal head injury.
The head of privacy at the secretive Google X facility was one of the 18 people killed in an avalanche at Mount Everest, triggered by the Nepal earthquake. Hundreds of foreign nationals are also feared dead or are missing.

Dan Fredinburg, 33, was part of the Jagged Globe expedition team that was tackling Mount Everest when the 7.9-magnidue quake shook Nepal, according to Jagged Globe and his family. He died of fatal head injury.

 Read more: Top Google executive killed in Nepal quake, 100s of foreign tourists missing — RT News