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This is an Open Thread
Jun 15 2012
Our regular featured content-
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This is an Open Thread
Jun 15 2012
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
Click on image to enlarge
June 15 is the 166th day of the year (167th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 199 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day 1215, Magna Carta sealed.
Following a revolt by the English nobility against his rule, King John puts his royal seal on the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter.” The document, essentially a peace treaty between John and his barons, guaranteed that the king would respect feudal rights and privileges, uphold the freedom of the church, and maintain the nation’s laws. Although more a reactionary than a progressive document in its day, the Magna Carta was seen as a cornerstone in the development of democratic England by later generations.
John was enthroned as king of England following the death of his brother, King Richard the Lion-Hearted, in 1199. King John’s reign was characterized by failure. He lost the duchy of Normandy to the French king and taxed the English nobility heavily to pay for his foreign misadventures. He quarreled with Pope Innocent III and sold church offices to build up the depleted royal coffers. Following the defeat of a campaign to regain Normandy in 1214, Stephen Langton, the archbishop of Canterbury, called on the disgruntled barons to demand a charter of liberties from the king.
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch’s authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225. The 1297 version, with the long title (originally in Latin) The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest, still remains on the statute books of England and Wales.
The 1215 Charter required King John of England to proclaim certain liberties, and accept that his will was not arbitrary, for example by explicitly accepting that no “freeman” (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land, a right which is still in existence today.
Magna Carta was the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges. It was preceded and directly influenced by the Charter of Liberties in 1100, in which King Henry I had specified particular areas wherein his powers would be limited.
Despite its recognised importance, by the second half of the 19th century nearly all of its clauses had been repealed in their original form. Three clauses remain part of the law of England and Wales, however, and it is generally considered part of the uncodified constitution. Lord Denning described it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despo In a 2005 speech, Lord Woolf described it as “first of a series of instruments that now are recognised as having a special constitutional status”, the others being the Habeas Corpus Act, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement.
The charter was an important part of the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world, although it was “far from unique, either in content or form”. In practice, Magna Carta in the medieval period did not in general limit the power of kings, but by the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law. It influenced the early settlers in New England and inspired later constitutional documents, including the United States Constitution.
Jun 15 2012
Egypt’s high court has dissolved the first democratically elected Parliament and declared that former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmad Shafiq, can remain in the race for president:
The rulings by the Supreme Constitutional Court, whose judges are Mubarak appointees, escalated the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the military, which stepped in to rule after Mubarak’s fall. The decisions tip the contest dramatically in favor of the ruling generals, robbing the Brotherhood of its power base in parliament and boosting Ahmad Shafiq, the former Mubarak prime minister who many see as the military’s favorite in the presidential contest against the Brotherhood’s candidate.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader and lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy said the rulings amounted to a “full-fledged coup.”
“This is the Egypt that Shafiq and the military council want and which I will not accept no matter how dear the price is,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
The Brotherhood and liberal and leftist activists who backed last year’s revolution against Mubarak accused the military of using the constitutional court as a proxy to preserve the hold of the ousted leader’s authoritarian regime and the generals over the country. Many of them were vowing new street protests.
Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said in a Twitter post:
Egypt just witnessed the smoothest military coup. We’d be outraged if we weren’t so exhausted
— hossam bahgat (@hossambahgat) June 14, 2012
According to the BBC, last year’s Parliamentary elections were “against the rules”
The court had been considering the validity of last year’s parliamentary election, because some of the seats were contested on a proportional list system, with others on the first-past-the-post system.
It decided that the election law had allowed parties to compete for seats reserved for independent candidates.
The head of the supreme court Farouk Soltan told Reuters: “The ruling regarding parliament includes the dissolution of the lower house of parliament in its entirety because the law upon which the elections were held is contrary to rules of the constitution.”
Many of the seats ruled unconstitutional were won by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In his New York Times article, David D. Kirkpatrick noted the consequences of the new president taking power with no Parliament to hold him on check:
The ruling means that whoever emerges as the winner of the runoff will take power without the check of a sitting Parliament and could even exercise some influence over the election of a future Parliament. It vastly compounds the stakes in the presidential race, raises questions about the governing military council’s commitment to democracy, and makes uncertain the future of a constitutional assembly recently formed by Parliament as well.
The decision, which dissolves the first freely elected Parliament in Egypt in decades, supercharges a building conflict between the court, which is increasingly presenting itself as a check on Islamists’ power, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The ruling, by the highest judicial authority in Egypt, cannot be appealed and it was not clear how the military council, which has been governing Egypt since Mr. Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011, would respond. But in anticipation that the court’s ruling could anger citizens, the military authorities reimposed martial law on Wednesday.
The ruling is a result of the Islamic dominated Parliament passing a law that barred prominent figures from the old regime from running for office. Critics of the law said that it targeted Shafiq and the court, in its ruling, said that the law lacked “objective grounds”, was discriminatory and violated “the principle of equality.”
Since the Mubarak’s fall, Egypt’s military has promised to hand power to an elected president by the start of July, but with no constitution and now the prospect of no parliament to write one, the new president is unlikely have his powers defined by the time he comes into office. And that has all the earmarks of a disaster for the Arab Spring and democracy in Egypt.
Jun 15 2012
Back in February of this year when we were battling ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA to protect the internet, I wrote about the Trans Pacific Partnership which would have impose even stricter provisions on copyright law and the internet than ACTA. Well, TPP hasn’t gne away and the secret negotiations by the Obama administration has raised serious questions from both sides of the Congressional aisle. The trade document (pdf), which has been a more closely guarded secret than Dick Cheney’s location, was leaked by Public Citizen a long-time critic of the administration’s trade objectives. Their analysis of the stealth policy that is being advocated by the super corporations and the Obama administration is, in a word, frightening.
A leak today of one of the most controversial chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) reveals that extreme provisions have been agreed to by U.S. officials, providing a stark warning about the dangers of “trade” negotiations occurring under conditions of extreme secrecy without press, public or policymaker oversight, Public Citizen said.
“The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of TPP negotiations,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Via closed-door negotiations, U.S. officials are rewriting swaths of U.S. law that have nothing to do with trade and in a move that will infuriate left and right alike have agreed to submit the U.S. government to the jurisdiction of foreign tribunals that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to foreign corporations that don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms do.” [..]
The TPP may well be the last trade agreement that the U.S. negotiates. This is because TPP, if completed, would have a new feature relative to past U.S. trade pacts: It would remain open for any other country to join later. Last month, USTR Kirk said that he “would love nothing more” than to have China join TPP.
In one move without congressional ratification, the agreement could:
offshore millions of American jobs, free the banksters from oversight, ban Buy America policies needed to create green jobs and rebuild our economy, decrease access to medicine, flood the U.S. with unsafe food and products, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards.
Zach Carter of Huffington Post reveals that the agreement confers on multinational corporations the ability to circumvent US laws and regulation:
Under the agreement currently being advocated by the Obama administration, American corporations would continue to be subject to domestic laws and regulations on the environment, banking and other issues. But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings. [..]
While the current trade deal could pose a challenge to American sovereignty, large corporations headquartered in the U.S. could potentially benefit from it by using the same terms to oppose the laws of foreign governments. If one of the eight Pacific nations involved in the talks passes a new rule to which an American firm objects, that U.S. company could take the country to court directly in international tribunals.
Public Citizen challenged the independence of these international tribunals, noting that “The tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers that rotate between acting as ‘judges’ and as advocates for the investors suing the governments,” according to the text of the agreement.
Some of the other parts of the agreement would raise the cost of medications, while it would make life saving drugs inaccessible, it might as well have if they’re too expensive. Some of the other provisions would also:
Expand pharmaceutical patenting and create new drug monopolies, by lowering patentability standards and requiring patentability of minor variations of older, known medicines. Lengthen drug monopolies by requiring countries to extend patent terms. Eliminate safeguards against patent abuse, including among others the right of third parties to challenge patent applications (pre-grant opposition). Risk facilitating patent abuse by requiring countries to condition marketing approval on patent status (patent linkage). Under patent linkage, even spurious patents may function as barriers to generic drug registration. Expand exclusive control over clinical trial data including through an extra three years of data exclusivity for new uses of known products (in addition to five years exclusivity for first uses) and a new provision on biotech medicines.
Judit Rius, U.S. manager of Doctors Without Borders Access to Medicines Campaign, referring to the medication rules said, “Bush was better than Obama on this. It’s pathetic, but it is what it is. The world’s upside-down.”
On the impact on US environmental laws, Margrete Strand Rangnes, Labor and Trade Director for the Sierra Club, an environmental group said, “Our worst fears about the investment chapter have been confirmed by this leaked text … This investment chapter would severely undermine attempts to strengthen environmental law and policy.”
These negotiations have been going on since Obama took office. They are backed by the US Chamber of Commerce and by the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who urged the US to finalize the deal.
Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) has introduced legislation for more transparency and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) leaked a document from the talks on his website. (Hmm. Will Issa investigate himself?)
So much for this promise from Obama and the DNC (pdf):
We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications
And Obama supporters tell us that Romney is worse. Really? I see no difference between the them.
Jun 15 2012
“We are not in the hedge fund business.”
Jamie Dimon, CEO JP Morgan Chase
JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified today before the Senate Banking Committee about the $2 billion plus loss from it’s “London Whale” gambling with depositor and tax payer money. He was hardly contrite. Not only did Dimon whine about the complexity of the federal regulatory system but he lied, blatantly, this from Yves Smith at naked capitalism:
In Senate testimony, Dimon revealed his idea of “portfolio hedging” to be even more egregious than the harshest critics thought. Dimon presented the job of the CIO to be to make modest amounts of money in good times and to make a lot of money when there’s a crisis. (That does not appear to be narrowly true, since in the last couple of years, during which there was no crisis, the CIO’s staff were among the best paid in the bank and produced significant profits for the bank. That is a bald faced admission that the CIO’s mandate had nothing to do with hedging. A hedge is a position taken to mitigate losses on an underlying exposure should they occur. Instead, Dimon has admitted that the mission of the CIO is to place bets on tail risks that are unrelated to JP Morgan’s exposures. A massive, systemically destructive strategy like the Magnetar trade would fit perfectly within the CIO’s mandate.
Needless to say, this definition is an inversion of not just what the Volcker rule was meant to stand for (limiting financial firm gambles with taxpayer money), it’s NewSpeak, or in this case, DimonSpeak: “a hedge is whatever I say it is, no more and no less.” Another bit of DimonSpeak was his specious response when he was arguing against the Volcker rule. The JP Morgan chief asserted that a customer loan could be construed to be a prop trade. Um, no, Volcker applies to trading books. The fact that he’d run a line like that shows how little he thinks of the intelligence of the Senate Banking Committee and the public generally. [..]
It was instructive to see how effective confident misrepresentation can be. Most of the Republican senators fawned over Dimon after the ritual scolding at the top of the hearings, and I suspect most of the media will simply replay his lines uncritically. There were a few that will work against him, like his reluctant admission that the Volcker rule might have prevented the failed London trade. But in general, reducing complex situations to soundbites allows for obfuscation and misdirection, which is exactly what Dimon and his ilk are keen to have happen.
During the testimony, Dimon admitted to responsibility for the failed trade that could possibly lead to criminal charges for violation of Sarbanese-Oxley, but even under this Democratic administration, no one believes that, certainly not Yves or David Dayen at FDL:
Dimon also deflected blame for the losses. David Dayen recounts the conference call that took place during the hearing with economists Rob Johnson and Bill Black:
Dimon tried to blame the losses on a lot of factors, and in such a way that doesn’t trip up his priorities later. As economist Rob Johnson mentioned in a conference call, Dimon has been lobbying vociferously against things like the Volcker rule. So he doesn’t want this Fail Whale mix-up to lead to a stronger regulatory environment. He tried to explain the trades as a hedge (never saying that they were one, but that he “believed” they were one, to keep him out of trouble), that would make small amounts of money in good times and more money when things went bad. They were also specifically tied to business in Europe. Bill Black, who was also on the call, targeted this as a non sequitur. “He said that senior management ordered the CIO to get out of the risk out of this underlying supposed hedge,” Black said. “But a hedge is supposed to be reducing risk, and it was protecting you from Europe going bad, when Europe is going bad. So it should have been making more money at this time.”
Black continued. “Instead of reducing the risk, the CIO went into a vastly more complex series of derivatives and went far larger, and they hid the losses. I mean, my God. They violated direct orders, lose a ton of money and lie about it. Dimon described a massive insurrection by the CIO.”
Most of the senators soft peddled their questions and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) actually asked Dimon for advice about banking regulations and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) doesn’t believe in second guessing the banksters. The closest any of the questioners came to holding Dimon accountable for the losses was Sen Jeff Merkley (D-OR). It was during that exchange that Dimon admitted he was responsible for the losses.
All in all another farce by our politicians who are owned by the man before them.