December 4, 2021

European Ministers Clear Trade Deal

The breakthrough, which came after 13 hours of tense talks, should enable Britain to hail the start of the trans-Atlantic trade discussions when the leaders of the Group of 8 biggest economies hold a summit meeting on Monday in Northern Ireland.

“The formal launch of negotiations between the world’s two largest trading blocs is now imminent,” Vince Cable, the British business secretary, said in a statement shortly after the deal was announced. “Achieving an agreement is in all our interests and would deliver a much-needed boost to the economies of all involved.”

The divisive issue of shielding films, TV shows and other audiovisual services from competition could be debated again at a later stage, and that promises more wrangling ahead between European nations over what to offer the United States in exchange for lower tariffs and streamlined regulations.

Although the French position could be scaled back, the fact that the other 26 trade ministers in the European Union acceded to France’s demand could make negotiations with the United States that much more difficult, given the protectionist impulses on both sides of the Atlantic that are likely to come into play.

A trade pact would aim to lower barriers between the world’s two biggest trading partners. But before formal talks can start, the European Union’s 27 trade ministers needed to reach a unanimous deal to give the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, the formal authority to start the negotiations.

The decision in Luxembourg was a preliminary victory for France, which fought hard for months to protect Europe’s so-called cultural exception, which is, in practice, a thicket of quotas and subsidies for audiovisual productions that promote locally and regionally produced content.

“We are satisfied because we have the exclusion from the mandate for everything that is to do with audiovisual,” Nicole Bricq, the French trade minister, told a news conference. The guarantee was “written in black and white” in the agreement, she said.

The European Union, which is plagued by low growth and high unemployment, broadly favors a trade pact with the United States to bolster the economy and generate new jobs. But the drawn-out negotiations in Luxembourg were a stark reminder of how the bloc’s members still are reluctant to set aside national priorities and to make collective decision-making a reality.

The main sticking point on Friday was France’s demand to exclude audiovisual services, including future digital services, from the talks.

Britain, along with countries including Spain and the Netherlands, was concerned that such an exclusion would prompt the United States to require protections of its own.

The exclusion of audiovisual material from a trade deal would especially disappoint American technology and media companies, including the online movie distributor Netflix, which want easier access to European markets.

The deal that emerged was a classic European accommodation allowing a flagship initiative — a trans-Atlantic trade pact — to move forward while leaving decisions on the thorniest questions, like how to manage digital services, for a later date.

The compromise leaves the European Commission with the option to make a proposal, once the talks with the United States are under way, to use audiovisual services as a bargaining chip so long as all 27 member states agree that the advantages are sufficiently attractive.

“There is no carve-out on audiovisual services,” Karel De Gucht, the European Union trade commissioner who will lead the negotiations with the United States, told a news conference.“We are ready to discuss it with our American counterparts and to listen to their views on this issue.”

In a sign of the bitterness that nearly led to the collapse of the talks on Friday, Ms. Bricq, of France, accused some member states of pandering to American demands to keep the audiovisual industries as a bargaining chip.

And, earlier in the day, in a thinly veiled reference to the European outcry over recent disclosures that the National Security Agency in the United States had gained access to online data from many of the biggest Internet companies, she added that “current events unhappily remind us” of American influence over the online world.

How much progress Europe and the United States can make is an open question. Tariffs are already low, and the main goal — harmonizing regulations — is likely to pose a huge challenge for negotiators.

There are also questions about their differences over regulations on a host of industries, including new technologies, car safety, pharmaceuticals and financial derivatives.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/business/economy/european-trade-ministers-debate-terms-of-us-talks.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

European Ministers Negotiate Deal for U.S. Trade Talks

The breakthrough, after 13 hours of talks, should enable Britain to hail the start of the trans-Atlantic trade round when the leaders of the Group of 8 biggest economies hold a summit meeting on Monday in Northern Ireland.

“The formal launch of negotiations between the world’s two largest trading blocs is now imminent,” said Vince Cable, the British business secretary. “Achieving an agreement is in all our interests and would deliver a much-needed boost to the economies of all involved.”

A trade pact would aim to cut tariffs and streamline regulations between the world’s two biggest trading partners.

The sticking point during the all-day talks on Friday was France’s demand to exclude films, TV shows and other audiovisual services, including any future digital services, from the talks. Such an exclusion could prompt the United States to require protections of its own. Any excluded areas of commerce could limit the value of an eventual deal for both sides of the Atlantic.

France was arguing on behalf of Europe’s so-called “cultural exception” — in practice, a thicket of quotas and subsidies for audiovisual productions that promote locally and regionally produced content. Excluding such material from a trade deal would disappoint American technology and media companies, including the online movie distributor Netflix, which want easier access to European markets.

Early this week, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, told filmmakers in France that “the total exclusion” of audiovisual services from the negotiations “is not necessary.”

Arriving at the meeting Friday, Germany’s trade state secretary, Anne Ruth Herkes, said that “now France has to move a bit,” and that “sometimes we all have to do this.”

One proposal ministers discussed during the evening was to delay a decision on whether to include audiovisual services at the start of the talks with the United States.

That compromise plan would leave the European Commission with the option to make a proposal, once the talks with the United States were under way, to include audiovisual services as long as all 27 countries including France agreed that the advantages — in exchange for concessions from the United States, for example — had become sufficiently attractive.

From the start of the talks on Friday, France dug in its heels.

Nicole Bricq, the French trade minister, told her 26 counterparts in Luxembourg that she did not understand why most other European governments were opposed to the French stance.

“You want to call into question a fundamental principle that’s part of the European project — the cultural exception,” Ms. Bricq told her counterparts. “And you have chosen to do this with a partner that dominates the world in the areas of audiovisual production with the tendencies and temptations that go with power,” Ms. Bricq said, referring to the United States.

In a thinly veiled reference to the European outcry over recent disclosures that the National Security Agency in the United States had gained access to e-mail, Web searches and other online data from many of the biggest Internet companies, Ms. Bricq added that “current events unhappily remind us” of American influence over the online world.

A day earlier, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French prime minister, had threatened to veto the start of the trade talks if audiovisual services were not sufficiently protected.

In contrast to France, however, Britain, Spain, Sweden and Denmark want to move quickly to begin talks to open protected business like the transportation of goods along the United States coastline and American government procurement markets at both the federal and state levels.

“Huge benefits are expected from this initiative,” Jaime García-Legaz, the Spanish secretary of state for trade, and Mr. Cable of Britain said in a joint message on Thursday.

But how much progress Europe and the United States can make is an open question. Tariffs are already low, and the main goal — harmonizing regulations — is likely to pose a huge challenge for negotiators.

Europeans are generally more likely to see a need to regulate new technologies, including genetically modified foods and online services that already are dominated by American companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft. There are also questions about their differences over regulations on car safety, pharmaceuticals and financial derivatives.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/business/economy/european-trade-ministers-debate-terms-of-us-talks.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Judge Rules Memo on Targeted Killing Can Remain Secret

The ruling, by Judge Colleen McMahon, was marked by skepticism about the antiterrorist program that targeted him, and frustration with her own role in keeping the legal rationale for it secret.

“I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret,” she wrote.

“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” Judge McMahon wrote, adding that she was operating in a legal environment that amounted to “a veritable Catch-22.”

A lawsuit for the memorandum and related materials was filed under the Freedom of Information Act by The New York Times and two of its reporters, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane. Wednesday’s decision also rejected a broader request under the act from the American Civil Liberties Union.

David E. McCraw, a lawyer for The Times, said the paper would appeal.

“We began this litigation because we believed our readers deserved to know more about the U.S. government’s legal position on the use of targeted killings against persons having ties to terrorism, including U.S. citizens,” Mr. McCraw said. “Judge McMahon’s decision speaks eloquently and at length to the serious legal questions raised by the targeted-killing program and to why in a democracy the government should be addressing those questions openly and fully.”

Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U., said his group also planned to appeal. “This ruling,” he said, “denies the public access to crucial information about the government’s extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens and also effectively greenlights its practice of making selective and self-serving disclosures.”

A Justice Department spokesman said only that lawyers there were reviewing the decision.

Judge McMahon’s opinion included an overview of what she called “an extensive public relations campaign” by various government officials about the American role in the killing of Mr. Awlaki and the circumstances under which the government considers targeted killings, including of its citizens, to be lawful. The Times and the A.C.L.U. argued that the government had waived the right to withhold its legal rationale by discussing the program extensively in public.

(Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who lived at times on Long Island and in North Carolina, was also killed in the strike, on Sept. 30, 2011. Another strike two weeks later killed a group of people including Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.)

President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta both acknowledged that the United States played a role in the elder Mr. Awlaki’s death, Judge McMahon wrote. But she focused in particular on a March speech by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at Northwestern University.

When United States citizens are targeted for killing, Mr. Holder said, the Constitution’s due process protections apply. But due process does not require “judicial process,” he added.

On the one hand, Judge McMahon wrote, “the speech constitutes a sort of road map of the decision-making process that the government goes through before deciding to ‘exterminate’ someone ‘with extreme prejudice.’ ” On the other hand, the speech was “a far cry from a legal research memorandum.”

The government’s public comments were as a whole “cryptic and imprecise,” Judge McMahon said, and were thus insufficient to overcome exemptions in the freedom of information law for classified materials and internal government deliberations.

“It lies beyond the power of this court to conclude that a document has been improperly classified,” she wrote, rejecting the argument that legal analysis may not be classified.

Judge McMahon said she had not reviewed the withheld documents, including the one at the heart of the case, which was prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. She said the memorandum must contain more detailed legal analysis than the broad statements in Mr. Holder’s speech “unless standards at O.L.C. have slipped dramatically.”

The Times published an account of the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum in October 2011, citing people who had read it.

Even as she ruled against the plaintiffs, the judge wrote that the public should be allowed to judge whether the administration’s analysis holds water.

“More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including United States citizens, far from any recognizable ‘hot’ field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated,” she wrote.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/us/judge-rules-memo-on-targeted-killing-can-remain-secret.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Chicago News Cooperative | The Bottom Line: Rahm Emanuel and Unions Square Off Over Work Rules

Because of agreements between the city’s leaders and employee unions, many drivers often are required only to chauffeur other employees and equipment to work sites across Chicago. Upon arrival, the drivers then just wait while other workers complete such tasks as installing street lights or trimming trees.

“It is commonplace, if you are a resident of the city of Chicago, to see work crews on which only a couple of people are working and others appear to be standing or sitting idle,” Mr. Ferguson said last week. “The remarkable thing about this is they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. We have basically codified wasteful overstaffing.”

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel begins to grapple with the city’s daunting financial shortfalls, he faces a thicket of longstanding labor rules that could complicate efforts to make city government operate more efficiently.

Just two months after his inauguration, Mr. Emanuel already finds himself locked in a dispute with union officials over his demand that they agree to change some workplace rules or face hundreds of layoffs.

Mr. Emanuel and his budget-cutting aides are plunging into a murky legal sphere.

Reaching a clear understanding of how city employees are supposed to earn their taxpayer-financed paychecks can be much more complicated than merely reading union contracts. The way things have been done historically carries legal weight, labor law experts say.

The new mayor’s options appear to be limited even further by the 10-year contracts that Richard M. Daley reached with dozens of city workers’ unions in 2007. Those deals promised the same conditions and annual wage increases for union members through 2017.  Still, there are clauses that seem to allow the Emanuel administration to reopen the contracts in 2012.

With a budget deficit that could exceed $700 million next year, and with personnel costs representing the vast majority of expenses, Mr. Emanuel has said everyone must make sacrifices to help balance the city’s books. He has adhered to his campaign pledge to refrain from requesting that employees take more unpaid days off to save money, as Mr. Daley pushed them to do for years.

Instead, Mr. Emanuel said last month, he will have to lay off more than 600 workers unless their unions agree to changes in work rules. Although at first city officials did not offer details, Mr. Emanuel last week described three of the nine proposals he had presented to union officials in a closed-door meeting. The mayor and his aides have not publicly revealed the other six changes or the amounts that any of the nine changes would save.

Two of those ideas would affect the city’s hoisting engineers, who operate heavy machinery and who belong to the clout-heavy International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. The mayor suggested an end to the contractually mandated practice of paying those employees double their usual $45.10 hourly rate for overtime. Almost all other city employees are entitled to just one-and-one-half times their regular wage when they work overtime.

Mr. Emanuel also called for changes to the perk that hoisting engineers call “grease time,” a practice that guarantees a half-hour of overtime pay in each shift for maintaining the heavy equipment that union members operate.

Even before factoring in overtime, which has added tens of thousands of dollars to yearly wages, the annual pay for more than 200 hoisting engineers is at least $93,808.

Officials of Local 150 declined to answer questions about the two mayoral proposals.

The hoisting engineers’ union, which had been a major supporter of Mr. Daley, backed Gery Chico to succeed him in the election in February.

The third concept Mr. Emanuel mentioned last week would involve compelling the city’s administrative staff to work 40 hours a week instead of 35.

dmihalopoulos@chicago
newscoop.org

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0c1250b9683fb39ff186901caede2251

Bucks: To Open an Account, 111 Pages of Fine Print

While you are opening that new checking account, don’t forget to read the accompanying 111 pages of legal fine print that go along with it.

How many pages?

A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 111 pages is the median length of checking account disclosure documents given to customers by the 10 biggest banks in the United States.

Often nestled in the thicket of disclosures, schedules and related addenda are rules that favor the bank over the customer. These include binding arbitration clauses, which require any dispute over the contents of the agreement to be settled by a private arbitrator — usually one picked by the bank — instead of a judge. Other versions allow customers to take their case to court, but require them to cover the bank’s costs — even if the customers are found to be in the right.

An excerpt from a PNC Bank disclosure, included in the report, even states that such funds will be withdrawn from your account “without prior notice to you.”

The report, on “hidden risks” in checking accounts, notes that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has already been asked by Congress to look into such mandatory arbitration clauses.

Pew recommends that the bureau require banks to summarize crucial information about fees, account terms and conditions in a short, plain-language format, similar to the so-called Schumer Box now used for credit cards. That would make it easier for consumers to compare accounts and avoid costly fees.

Pew also recommends that regulators require banks to post deposits and withdrawals in an “objective” way — like chronological order — to minimize instances when banks reorder postings to increase fees from bounced checks. Most banks post checks in order of highest dollar amount to lowest, which tends to maximize the bounced check fees. Banks can also process debits to the account before posting deposits.

Pew provides a clear illustration of the effect of this method, in a chart based on a recent court challenge of Wells Fargo’s daily transaction-posting policy. The chart shows that posting deposits and debits in chronological order would result in fees of $22, while Wells Fargo ordered them in a way that the customer ended up owing $88.

Citibank, in a departure from its big bank peers, recently announced that it would start processing checks in in “low to high” order to minimize potential fees for overdrawn accounts. But it remains in the minority.

“Since we collected our data, some banks have said they’re changing this policy,” said Eleni Constantine, director of Pew’s financial security portfolio. “But it’s voluntary. They could go back to what they were doing before, anytime they want to.”

The Pew report also found that consumers are not given enough information to compare the various overdraft options — that is, protection against overdrawing your account by debits or bounced checks — offered by their banks.

Usually, a transfer plan, in which funds are moved from the customer’s savings account or credit card to cover shortages in the checking account, is significantly cheaper, at about $10 a transfer. But many banks promote more expensive options in which the bank pays the shortage and charges a fee — typically $35.

Have you read your checking account disclosure? Did you understand it? Did anything in it surprise you?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c2b3147552dbacef972494438bb798ff