Friday, August 23, 2013

Smoke, Shills and Shrillionaires

(Say three times fast.)

Well, knock me over with a Lucky Strike. Michael Bloomberg, lord mayor of the fiefdom of New York, 10th richest American plutocrat, 20th wealthiest man in the universe, is taking on the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). More specifically, he is taking on President Obama's "cave" to Big Tobacco, which is demanding the right to spread cancer and sell ciggies to kiddies the wide world over. Under the new agreement, the tobacco cartel will be granted the power to actually supersede local laws governing the sale of its products.

In an op-ed published in today's New York Times, Bloomberg writes:
The early drafts of the agreement included a “safe harbor” provision protecting nations that have adopted regulations on tobacco — like package warnings and advertising and marketing restrictions — because of “the unique status of tobacco products from a health and regulatory perspective.” This provision would have prevented the tobacco industry from interfering with governments’ sovereign right to protect public health through tobacco control laws.  
This week, however, the Obama administration bowed to pressure from the tobacco industry and dumped the safe harbor provision from the trade compact. The tobacco industry was joined by other business interest groups that were fearful that the safe harbor provision would lead to other products’ being singled out in future trade accords.
So instead of the safe harbor, the Obama administration is now calling for a clause requiring that before a government can challenge another’s tobacco regulation under the treaty, their health authorities must “discuss the measure.” The administration will also try to ensure that a general exception for matters to protect human life or health (typical in trade agreements) applies specifically to tobacco regulation.
But these are weak half-measures at best that will not protect American law — and the laws of other countries — from being usurped by the tobacco industry, which is increasingly using trade and investment agreements to challenge domestic tobacco control measures.
Obama, a known nicotine addict himself, will effectively allow a flood of cheap cigarettes into third world countries, where in some locales, the rules are already lax: 

He's going to need all the help he can get funding his presidential library, paying for his daughters' educations, weddings, his homes, their condos, second homes, third homes, ad infinitum. The once-secretive shilling is now right out there in the open. And why limit himself to only one Kill List? 

Every human rights organization and public health advocacy group out there, it seems, is up in arms over the president's latest sellout. But Bloomberg's the guy with the heft. Obama once even offered him the presidency of the World Bank. So, as I responded in today's Times comment thread,
Maybe when Mayor Bloomberg leaves office, he can go full Glenn Greenwald and start publishing exposés on the rest of the super-secret, corporation-friendly awfulness contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a member of the Club, he is welcome where the rest of us (even members of Congress expected to give it a quickie carte blanche) are not. If he will do that for the hoi polloi, and rip the curtain of deceit away from the global capitalist cabal, I might even forgive him for evicting Occupy from Zuccotti Park.
So -- what about the reckless epidemic of fracking for natural gas, most of which will be exported to other countries for the enrichment of a few, rather than stockpiled here for our own future use?
What about the importation of foreign food from countries where they don't necessarily believe in inspection? What about the deal that will shield corporations from lawsuits in domestic courts? How about the clause giving drug companies permission to withhold life-saving medicine from impoverished countries?
How about it, Mr. Mayor? Channel FDR, and be a traitor to your class. It's never too late.
For the latest information and best coverage of the ongoing corporate coup known as the TPP, check out Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Since the USG's adherence to the will of the world's business cartels hinges upon Congressional approval, pressure on our reps may do the trick. Obama has yet to secure their permission to unilaterally sign any deals. It's not too late, especially given parallel anger over the NSA spying revelations.

This all ties in, too, to Paul Krugman's excellent column on bubbles and deregulation, on oligarchs gone wild, running from one crisis to the next. My comment:
Transnational capitalism rules the world. And it's super-government run amok. It's the force behind the epidemic of social austerity and corporate deregulation, endless wars and constant surveillance of restive populations. Heads of state are mere brokers, competing for Super Government's business, outbidding each other to offer the most natural resources, the most legal immunity, the most generous corporate welfare. They offer up their increasingly desperate human labor pools, who are forced to work longer and longer for less and less.
The corporate leeches feed, and keep moving. They hide their trillions in their offshore accounts and watch smugly from afar as the toxic bubbles they leave behind fester and burst, and societies crumble. They are never held accountable. They do, after all, own the world.
Well, almost. According to a 2006 UN report, the world’s richest 1% own 40% of the world’s assets, with those in the financial and internet sectors comprising the “super rich.” The top 10% of the global super-rich, a third of whom call the USA home sweet home, own about 85% of the planet's total assets. The bottom half of the population (3 billion people) own less than 1% of the world’s wealth.
In America, the president is now asking Congress for free rein to negotiate yet another massive giveaway to the global super-rich in the form of the ultra-secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership. Because, for the financial predators who run the place, too much is never enough.
Here's Lookin' At You, Kids


Zee said...


Let me see if I understand this: Signatories to the TPP would be unable to regulate the sale of imported cigarettes within their national boundaries for health reasons without first “discussing” the matter with the cigarette-exporting countries' health officials, and if they cannot reach an agreement the companies like, the cigarette companies can then turn around and sue the nation that is importing the cigarettes under the trade agreement?

According to the fifth link you provided (“will effectively allow”),

“The new [U.S. Trade Representative] proposal does not recognize tobacco as a uniquely harmful product or provide a safe harbor for nations to regulate in order to reduce tobacco use, as the initial proposal would have done. The new proposal states the obvious – that tobacco control measures involve public health – and then directs public health officials from the countries that are party to the trade agreement to consult each other before launching tobacco-related trade challenges.

The new plan preserves the status quo, which allows tobacco companies to sue countries over their public health measures on the grounds that they violate free trade rules.

But it also strengthens it: The Trans Pacific Partnership will also make those free trade rules a lot stronger, through provisions lowering tariffs to zero and protecting the use of trademarks (which would support a company’s right to advertise). And countries that can’t afford to fight trade lawsuits that can cost many millions of dollars might just not act to protect their citizens in the first place.”

This when the exporting nations know damn' well the health risks posed by smoking cigarettes?

What amazing hypocrisy! We heavily regulate the packaging and marketing of cigarettes in our country, yet our cigarette exporters can sue the importing countries for trying to do the same thing, because it violates “free trade rules?”

Good Lord!

Quitting smoking 31 years ago was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and my health began to improve immediately after I stubbed out that last cigarette on August 31, 1982, at approximately 7:30PM—but who's counting? That's how addictive cigarettes are: I still remember that last cigarette to the year, month, day and hour—with longing.

Even today, I have dreams wherein I imagine that I have told myself that surely, now, I can have “just one,” whereupon I smoke the entire pack and am hooked once again, undoing decades of work. I wake up in a cold sweat.

And when a friend asks me if I mind if they smoke, I get them an ashtray and enjoy the second-hand smoke!

Tobacco companies are the epitome of true evil and wickedness.

The Black Swan said...

I've been reading 'The Shock Doctrine' by Naomi Klein and this whole thing is right in line with it all. Plan a huge corporate takeover in secret, wait for or create a major social shock, implement the take over, rinse and repeat.

Time to make a list of which nations have banned GMO, havent signed the TPP, and offer free health care. Then find out how to move there and gain citizenship.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

meanwhile, as the gubmint readily (but quietly) admits, tobacco is radioactive.

this is not new's a 1993 story from the times:

4Runner said...

The US military has long been a purveyor of subsidized tobacco. While the cheapest pack of Marlboros might go for around $6.50 @ Walmart (depending upon location), you'll find the price @ your local Army PX is about $5. Tax-supported cancer on the cheap!

Jay - Ottawa said...


Remarkable links on the polonium found in cigarettes. Apparently, significant exposure to and accumulation of radioactive products is still not enough for health officials to outlaw cigarettes.

And now Obama wants to drop the few rules in place discouraging smoking?

Mayor Bloomberg really does play the good guy once in a while. Obama never does. In a race between Obama and Bloomberg, would it be foolish to consider Bloomberg the lesser-of-two evils?

At this late stage of Obama's tenure, coming to the realization that he's an empty suit is pointless. Reminds me of the old gag about doctor types: The family practitioner knows a little about a lot. The specialist knows a lot about very little. The pathologist, on the other hand, knows everything about everything –– but too late.

Will said...

Forgot to post this the other day. Here's comedian/activist Lee Camp with a hilarious, informative & expletive-laden explanation of The Shock Doctrine. (Hey, Black Swan, this video's only a few days old. Talk about timing, huh?)

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Karen, and @all:

Off the cigarette topic, but some great stuff that should not be missed was on Bill Moyers this past week. (Actually, the Moyers program does unstatedly relate to the "Trans-Pacific-Partnership" shafting of the populace and the U.S. government's cigarette position, because the TPP itself and cigarette policy are just specific examples of the U.S. government bending over forward for business):

Moyers concludes the program with a very good short video editorial that takes to task both Washington and the mass media, Washington for what it does and fails to do, and the mass media for not asking the right questions, particularly who benefits and who pays. (The editorial is not as damning/cutting as Karen (or many commenters here) would serve up, but about as good as can be expected on PBS).

Moyers ends it with the following:

"Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.

Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands."

I think he may mean "seduction that passes as access", but his points are otherwise clear. And it's that last phrase, about the outraged citizenry descending on Washington, that really is apropos.

Irene Goodnight said...

The Prez quit smoking a couple of years ago as far as I know. Besides, even if he didn't, how does that translate to your characterization of his motives? It's like saying a fat person wants to sell pastries just so that (s)he can make everyone fat.

You all are so far "left" (if you can even label it), that you begin to sound like the right.

Is there anyone remotely electable that any of you find acceptable? I notice this blog never moves much beyond the same four or five regulars. Karen is a gifted writer and I usually "recommend" her NYT comments, but whenever I drop in here, I tend to find a lot of extremely biased ideology.

Fred Drumlevitch said...


(Part 1)

You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion, but I find it quite remarkable --- ultimately damaging for the future of this nation --- that you characterize the comments/commenters here as demonstrating, in your words, "a lot of extremely biased ideology". Much of the ideology on this forum would be considered middle-of-the-road in the 1960s. (For instance, are you aware that Richard Nixon --- Richard Nixon! had proposals for a Guaranteed Annual Income, and significant health insurance reform?). That you deride the ideology on this forum as "extremely biased" is a measure of how far to the right the psychology of this nation has been dragged by overt Republican action, and Democratic action and complicity.

For a relatively mild --- compared to what is warranted --- critique of this process, see Robert Reich's recent post:

From Reich's post:

"America no longer values public goods as we did decades ago.

The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century, when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens and generate widespread prosperity.


[But] "... the notion of the public good has faded.

Not even Democrats still use the phrase 'the public good.' Public goods are now, at best, 'public investments.' Public institutions have morphed into 'public-private partnerships' or, for Republicans, simply 'vouchers.'

Outside of defense, domestic discretionary spending is down sharply as a percent of the economy. Add in declines in state and local spending, and total public spending on education, infrastructure and basic research has dropped dramatically over the past five years as a portion of GDP."

[end Robert Reich quote]

As much as what Reich says is true, note that even he does not (in that piece) expressly address the issue of social services to those most in need. How much is that need? Here's a newspaper series from last year that addresses one small piece of the issue, children in poverty in one particular locale:

Aren't you just a little bit outraged by these conditions in a nation that spends many hundreds of billions of dollars per year on the military, and that has socialized the imprudent losses of the banks?

Fred Drumlevitch said...


(Part 2)

Occasionally comments here might seem to go "over the top" in ridiculing those in power. (Perhaps such expression derives from the great frustration nowadays felt by decent people). But whatever the comments here, they pale in comparison to the immoral actions to which so many in this country are subjected by our political and economic systems. Perhaps most outrageous is that these immoral actions come not only from the rich, who might well be expected to be isolated from reality, but also from the politicians whose sworn responsibility is ostensibly to the nation.

For example, as specified in the Constitution, the incoming President's oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." For members of Congress: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. [So help me God.]"

What we see demonstrated time and time again by these officials, Republicans and Democrats, lies so far from their oaths of office (as well as, at least in the case of many Democrats, their campaign promises) that it makes a mockery of the entire political process. So perhaps you should well excuse a bit of over-the-top mockery of these officials on this forum. And as I've said, by historical measures and moral metrics, most of the ideology expressed in comments at this forum is not extreme.

Irene, I strongly urge you to educate yourself with regard to how this nation now really operates. I say that with absolutely no ridicule directed at you; I myself was once quite ignorant, passive and too willing to believe the rosy picture presented in K-12 school and by the mainstream media. In truth, that picture ranges from incomplete to outright deceptive. As I said in my most recent post on my blog (which Karen was gracious enough to also run here at Sardonicky on May 17):

"The conclusion is inescapable: For the majority of the populace that does not take the initiative to actively seek out reputable alternative information sources, mainstream media’s minimal to non-existent coverage of progressive thought effectively equates to suppression. In our 'kinder-and-gentler' megacorporation-run, advertising-sponsored information tyranny, no 'ministry of information' directives prohibit certain coverage. No reporters are brutally 'disappeared'. But the effect of the invisible hand is much the same."

For a start, Irene, you could begin by watching in their entirety the Bill Moyers program links that I provided in my August 25 comment located just above yours. Surely you wouldn't characterize Bill Moyers or Mark Leibovich as radicals, would you?

annenigma said...

@Irene Goodnight

"Is there anyone remotely electable that any of you find acceptable?" Yes - Candidate Obama.

It's maddening to see our candidate, our President, actually seated in office year after year with all that power who chooses time and again to put the interests of the rich and the corporations before the people. Talk is cheap, yet he won't even spend some political capital giving lip service to the problem of poverty, preferring instead to focus on opportunities for the middle class. Who would be offended if he spoke up on behalf of the poor and other disenfranchised? The right wing and his wealthy corporate supporters, that's who. Some of us dare to call that BETRAYAL, and there are many more issues this applies to besides poverty.

If Mr. Obama can change once, he can change again - back to who he claimed to be when he was a candidate. Even now that he has nothing to lose, he still won't use his power for all the good he could be doing. He asked us to keep his feet to the fire, but anyone who dares do that is unfairly labeled. Think about it - we have 3+ years to push him back in the direction of Candidate Obama. He will only change direction if it looks like he is costing the Democratic Party votes. After the 2014, all our leverage is gone for the rest of his term. Our voices can and should pressure the party leaders who will then pressure him. It's how politics used to work before Democratic voters decided to give up their power to the the rich and powerful in authority. Now dissent is condemned and demands are not made. That's not healthy for a country still calling itself a democracy.

You mentioned that we sound right wing, but how about talking left but actually taking actions that are right? Some of us believe it's our civic duty to point out and discuss those discrepancies even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

If you can bear to hear some really painful truths, please become a regular reader of the Black Agenda Report which is listed on Karen's blogroll. They know about betrayal, and no one can call them racists or haters, and certainly not right wingers either.

Karen Garcia said...

Irene, good afternoon:

When I wrote that the president is a nicotine addict, I did not mean to imply that he still actually smokes. Who knows, who cares. But he consistently chews Nicorette, which is supposed to be a temporary stop-smoking aid. And he's been chomping away for years.

As far as the commentary on this blog is concerned, all comers are welcome as long as they refrain from ad hominem attacks. And as far as your being unable to distinguish Left from Right, you do have a point. There's been a melding of the minds as regards the TPP (Michele Bachman hates it as much as Al Grayson),and the most of the Bill of Rights. The defunding of a section of the Patriot Act was nearly accomplished through bipartisan consensus among the back benchers of the lower House.

Well, I'll stop my rambling for now. Thanks for stopping by, Irene! I hope you take a notion to do so again in the future.

Jay - Ottawa said...


You’re right: commenters here on Sardonicky are few and, compared to Karen's vintage, we often serve up pitchers of pale and foxy wine.

You’re right: Obama’s motives and personal habits are not the issue. His actions as president are what matter. More on his actions in a moment.

You're right: The set up on just about every election day means we have the Duopoly and no real alternative other than a protest vote for a Third Party.

You're right: Karen’s a pro on the big stage; we’re the groundlings. You’re well-advised to read her and skip us.

For whatever it's worth as a form of applause to Karen, we chime in as best we can -- here and at other sites listed on the blog roll -- because we, in our stumbling, inarticulate, long-winded way can’t stop joining the clamour about the political and economic sea change that has occurred in America. Sea change? Aha! Another exaggeration. Maybe not.

When you realize that the ideals of the Declaration and the particulars of the Constitution are being systematically turned upside down, perhaps permanently, by Wall Street, big corporations and just about everybody inside the Washington Beltway, no expletive is excessive or too often repeated by people suffering the mounting injustice. Another exaggeration? Maybe so if you still have a job and money in the bank and don't need the clutch of amendments called the Bill of Rights. Minor issues or exaggeration once again?

Did you really grasp the import of Karen’s account about Obama’s cave on the ‘safe harbor’ provision that used to apply on the cigarette trade? Once again national law is pushed down below global business as the law. Business lobbies write the laws, not elected representatives. Another exaggeration?

On the cigarette trade, as in so many other areas, Obama’s doing much worst to millions of people than your ballooning baker pushing fat food on kids. Bias again?

For five years going on eight Obama keeps doing things like the secret sell out to big tobacco -- or allowing others to drag the country in the same sorry direction. By now, for those who dare to keep up with events, there is a shocking constant of injustice and betrayal found throughout Obama's Administration. Are we lefties hallucinating our way so far to the left that we wake up as Tea Baggers?

One thing for sure about the regulars at Sardonicky: they keep up with events. Maybe that's their problem. Among the big events we follow are the repeated betrayals by this Administration. That may explain the predictable repetitive pattern or our comments.

Remember Senator Bradley from New Jersey? On the Princeton basketball court and later in the NBA, Bradley sank baskets without even looking at the basket. When asked how he did it, he replied, “You’ve just got to know where you’re standing.”

The same applies about your charges of bias and exaggeration: everything depends on where you're standing. The millions of Americans who, through no fault of their own, have lost their house, their job, their savings, their freedom and in some cases their lives stand in a different place than many of us, the lucky ones. Millions more will be joining the ranks of the unlucky this year. These losses are not accidents of fate. The losses of the unfortunate are losses consciously willed by others. I speak of the American elite's actions, not their motives.

So a call of bias and exaggeration depends on where you happen to be standing and how much you suffer or react to the suffering of others. Are there not increasing millions of Americans who, justifiably, entertain deep-seated resentment at gross injustice? Listen to them, and also their advocates who are systematically frozen out or chased down around the world. Are they or the people who join them in sympathy and solidarity, exaggerating their plight? After five years of Obama is there no cause yet to say harsh things about the people in power? Depends where you stand.

Sweet dreams, Irene, in what are for many Americans nightmare times.

Zee said...


Were you to “hang out” here on a more regular basis, you might find a greater diversity of opinion than you imagine.

But you might also receive an interesting education, as well.

Like Fred Drumlevitch, on sociopolitical matters I was pretty much “conservative, fat, dumb and happy”—until the financial “crash” of 2007-2008. After all, the “system” had been pretty good to me and mine: why question anything or everything that I had learned from K-PhD? (Not that I know that Fred was “conservative” prior to his “awakening.”)

But suddenly, things just didn't add up.

Bailouts—rather than jail—for the Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” who had poured gasoline on the economy and tossed a lighted match on it. Then, taxpayer-funded bonuses for these same Wall Street executives who had driven the economy off a high cliff because—despite having proven their ineptitude beyond a shadow of a doubt—they were just too valuable to lose! Next, revelations of the criminal mortgage-lending policies that led to the crisis in the first place, with Wall Street insiders betting against the very mortgages that they claimed were safe for the public to own, and government complicity at every step along the way!

What “free-market” economy? We don't have “capitalism,” we have “corporatism.” Which is rather like fascism.

I only began to understand these things when I started to participate in Progressive blogs, first over at RealityChex, and now here at Sardonicky.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still more a (regulated) capitalist, “free-marketeer” than most on this blog. But I've also finally come to understand who is really running this country, and of the necessity to change this. Karen and her not-so-merry band of followers have provided me with a wealth of information that has explained to me what the hell is really going on.

Come 2014 or 2016, it will make no difference whether or not we elect Hillary Clinton or [Fill in the Blank] from the two major parties. Both they—and Congress, in 2014—will be owned lock, stock and barrel by those with the most money, all of whom will hedge their bets by supporting both sides.

And they will “govern”—if one can actually use that term while keeping a straight face—accordingly.

I don't think that you should view this as “bias.” Think of it rather as reality.