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: Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Labour Day reading.

– Jared Bernstein comments on the prospect of a labour revival which can boost the prospects of unionized and non-unionized workers alike. And Thomas Walkom makes the case for closer identification between the NDP and Canada’s labour movement:

Labour needs a political party because unions, on their own, are a declining force. Only 29 per cent of the Canadian workforce is unionized. The number continues to fall.

This has happened because the economy, once characterized by large manufacturing plants, is now dominated by smaller service firms that, under current labour laws, are more difficult to unionize.

The decline of well-paying union jobs is one of the key factors behind the rise in income inequality that politicians routinely fret about.

Yet to reverse this trend would require a total rethinking of employment and labour laws, most of which were designed in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Among other things, the laws must be amended to eliminate the loophole that allows so many employers to pretend their workers are independent contractors who do not qualify for benefits or statutory protection.

As well, labour relations laws would have to be changed to allow unions organizing, say, fast-food franchise outlets, to take on the ultimate employer.

These are just a couple of examples. The point is that, if unions are to survive, labour laws must be rethought.

That in turn requires a political party willing to do the rethinking.

– And CBC reports that Ontario’s NDP looks to be taking that advice by looking to facilitate both certification and collective bargaining – though there’s still more to be done in examining the broader trends affecting unionization rates.

– Mark Dearn discusses how the CETA figures to undermine democratic governance in Canada and Europe alike. And the CP reports on Justin Trudeau’s attempt to stifle discussion of the actual terms of corporate control agreements by indiscriminately bashing anybody who raises reasonable questions about business-oriented trade deals.

– Michael Winship points out how profiteering around the EpiPen the fits into a wider pattern of pharmaceutical price gouging and other anti-social behaviour.

– Finally, Lyndal Rowlands writes that developed countries have a strong stake in working toward meeting global development goals – and suggests it’s long past time that we started acting like it.

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Accidental Deliberations: Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

– Chris Hamby starts off what looks to be a must-read investigation on the effect of ISDS rules by discussing how they’re used to prevent governments from punishing corporate wrongdoing:

(A)n 18-month BuzzFeed News investigation, spanning three continents and involving more than 200 interviews and tens of thousands of documents, many of them previously confidential, has exposed an obscure but immensely consequential feature of these trade treaties, the secret operations of these tribunals, and the ways that business has co-opted them to bring sovereign nations to heel.

Reviewing publicly available information for about 300 claims filed during the past five years, BuzzFeed News found more than 35 cases in which the company or executive seeking protection in ISDS was accused of criminal activity, including money laundering, embezzlement, stock manipulation, bribery, war profiteering, and fraud.

Among them: a bank in Cyprus that the US government accused of financing terrorism and organized crime, an oil company executive accused of embezzling millions from the impoverished African nation of Burundi, and the Russian oligarch known as “the Kremlin’s banker.”

Some are at the center of notorious scandals, from the billionaire accused of orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme in Mauritius to multiple telecommunications tycoons charged in the ever-widening “2G scam” in India, which made it into Time magazine’s top 10 abuses of power, alongside Watergate. The companies or executives involved in these cases either denied wrongdoing or did not respond to requests for comment.

Most of the 35-plus cases are still ongoing. But in at least eight of the cases, bringing an ISDS claim got results for the accused wrongdoers, including a multimillion-dollar award, a dropped criminal investigation, and dropped criminal charges. In another, the tribunal has directed the government to halt a criminal case while the arbitration is pending.

– And Dharna Noor interviews James Henry about the need for international cooperation – at both the government and public level – to crack down on tax evasion.

– Tyler Hamilton discusses the health effects of climate change. And Joseph Erbentraut examines how a changing climate is affecting both the quantity and quality of the water we depend on. 

– Kev responds to the spread of #goodriddanceharper by pointing out that as satisfying as it was to turf the Cons from office, we’re still facing most of the same anti-social policies with a more media-savvy face. And Doug Nesbitt reminds us that the Trudeau Libs are no friends of labour – with Canada Post’s appalling attacks on vulnerable workers serving as just the latest example.

– Finally, the Canadian Press reports on a much-needed push for resources to address mental health in Canada.

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Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.- Glenn Greenwald interviews Alex Cuadros about his new book on how Brazil has been warped politically and economically by the whims of its billionaire class. And PressProgress takes a look at the impact…

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