Accidental Deliberations: Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

– David Dayen and Ryan Grim write that “free trade” agreements are in fact turning into little more than cash cows for hedge funds and other big-money speculators:

Under this system, a corporation invested in a foreign country can appeal to arbitration panels, consisting of three corporate lawyers, if that country enacts a law or regulation that violates a trade agreement or discriminates against the company. The ISDS courts can then award billions of dollars to the corporation to compensate it for the loss of expected future profits.

The problem is that these courts can also be used by speculators, who buy up companies for the sole purpose of filing an ISDS claim, or who finance lawsuits from corporations for a piece of the claim award.

“ISDS allows a small group of ultra-rich investors to extract billions of dollars from taxpayers while they undermine financial, environmental and public health rules across the world,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), an early opponent of ISDS, told HuffPost. “Our trade deals should not include ISDS in any form.”

The use of ISDS as a moneymaking engine, rather than for its initial purpose ― to protect foreign investors from having their factories expropriated or their businesses nationalized ― raises the question of whether there’s a better system available.

“Why should hard-won sovereign advances, like rules against polluting or consumer protections, be at risk when the obvious solution is for the investors to put their skin, not ours, in the game?” wondered Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden and a critic of TPP. “The simple solution is to have them self-insure against investment losses.”

– Mike Balkwill highlights the need to stop consulting endlessly about poverty, and instead take action by ensuring people have enough resources to meet at least their basic needs. Ann Hui reports on the especially dire circumstances facing First Nations families in Northern Ontario who have to spend upwards of half of their income on overpriced food. And Miguel Sanchez criticizes the Wall government’s attack on benefits to people with disabilities in Saskatchewan.

– Nicole Thompson points out how the Libs’ changes to the temporary foreign worker program are actually making matters worse for caregivers by eliminating any right to apply for permanent resident status. And Martha Burk documents how workers can lose out when employers force them to accept payroll cards rather than paycheques.

– Erich Hartmann and Alexa Greig argue that it’s long past time for Canada’s federal government to provide stable funding for health care in partnership with the provinces, rather than contributing only as much as it wants to at any given point. And Tom Blackwell reports on the dangers of relying on private providers by highlighting how they inevitably leave the public system to deal with complications.

– Finally, Tom Parkin notes that we should base our discussion of electoral reform on the actual experience of similar countries, not the obviously-false claims of people wanting to fearmonger us into accepting the status quo. And Andrew Coyne draws a parallel to the census as an argument for mandatory voting.

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Accidental Deliberations: Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

– Christopher Ingraham points out that while many luxuries are getting cheaper with time, the necessities of life are becoming much more difficult to afford:

Many manufactured goods — like TVs and appliances — come from overseas, where labor costs are cheaper. “International, global competition lowers prices directly from lower-cost imported goods, and indirectly by forcing U.S. manufacturers to behave more competitively, with lower prices, higher quality, better service, et cetera,” Perry said.

On the flip side, things like education and medical care can’t be produced in a factory, so those pressures do not apply. Compounding it, many Americans are insulated from the full costs of these services. Private and public insurance companies pay most medical costs, so there tends to be little incentive for individuals to shop around for cheaper medical care.

In the case of higher education, the nation’s massive student loan industry bears much of the upfront burden of rising prices. To the typical 18-year-old, a $120,000 tuition bill may seem like an abstraction when you don’t have to start paying it off until your mid-20s or later. As a result, the nation’s college students and graduates now collectively owe upward of $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.

“Prices rise when [health care and college] markets are not competitive and not exposed to global competition,” Perry said, “and prices rise when easy credit is available.”

Hence, our current predicament. We can afford the things we don’t need, but we need the things we can’t afford.

– Alex Usher notes how one of the same cost pressures applies in Canada, as universities losing public funding are squeezing students for massive tuition increases. And Lindsay Kines reports that the Clark government’s decision to make life less affordable for people with disabilities in British Columbia has led to 3,500 people giving up their transit passes.

– Natalia Khosla and Sean McElwee discuss the difficulty in addressing racism when many people live in denial of their continued privilege.

– Paul Wells comments on SNC Lavalin’s long track record of illegal corporate donations to the Libs and the Cons.

– Finally, Gerry Caplan points out how Justin Trudeau is dodging key human rights questions. And Mike Blanchfield reports that the Libs’ willingness to undermine a treaty prohibiting the use of cluster bombs represents just another area where they’re leaving the Cons’ most harmful policies untouched.

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Accidental Deliberations: Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

– David Dayen wonders whether the Obama administration’s decision to end the use of private prisons might represent the needed start of a movement away from relying on poor corporate services as a substitute for public action:

Private prisons experienced more safety and security incidents. They had higher rates of assaults, inadequate medical checkups and compliance, eight times as many incidents of contraband cell-phone smuggling, and often housed new inmates in solitary confinement units, seemingly for lack of space. The report also detailed several grisly incidents since 2008: three riots in one Reeves County, Texas facility in two months; the death of a corrections officer in a riot in Natchez, Mississippi; and the closure of the Willacy County (Texas) Correctional Center, after inmates burned it to the ground.

It’s not hard to figure out why this happens. Private companies win contracts to manage federal prisons by undercutting the Bureau of Prisons’ operational costs. Unlike the government, private prison companies must also take their profit margins out of their budgets. The only way to make that work is to massively drop labor costs, corresponding to a severe degradation of the quality of prison management.

That reflects the problem with privatization as a whole. Private companies must carry out a government function—be it water, parking meters, mass transit, or K-12 schools—at a lower cost than the government can provide it, while taking their profit off the top. Time and again, the results reveal that to be impossible, at least if you want to provide the same quality of service. Yet we keep privatizing. Whether it’s Republicans expanding Medicaid or cash-strapped cities handing over bus service to Uber and Lyft, eventually costs shift from taxpayers to the users of the services, oversight becomes impotent as officials grow reliant on outsourcing contracts, and attempts to maximize profits lead to service breakdowns.

– But CBC reports that the worst is yet to come in Saskatchewan as Brad Wall has publicly put SaskTel up for corporate raiding.

– Jacki Andre discusses the hidden costs of living with a disability – which make it particularly unconscionable for Wall’s Saskatchewan Party to be trying to squeeze pennies out of people who rely on already-inadequate disability benefits.

– Floyd Perras highlights the multiple factors that contribute to (and exacerbate) homelessness. And Rocca Perla comments on the need to include social determinants of health within medical treatment of patients.

– Pat Rich describes the Canadian Medical Association’s rude awakening in finding out that Lib Health Minister Jane Philpott has no interest in its key priorities for improved care. And Alison points out how the Libs are conspicuously trying to wriggle out of their promise to end the unfairness of first-past-the-post politics.

– Finally, Anna MacDonald makes the case for stronger transparency as a means of limiting the harm of global arms dealing. But if there was any doubt that the Trudeau Libs are firmly on the side of weapons proliferation, Helene Laverdiere points out their inexplicable decision to stand against nuclear disarmament.

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