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ANOTHER Corporation Suing Our Government Thanks To Trade Agreements

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Dave JohnsonA Canadian corporation is suing the us because we wouldn’t let them build a pipeline across our country (seizing people’s property along the way) so they could sell oil to China.

They can do this because we signed a trade agreement that places corporate rights above our democracy. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would increase by an order of magnitude the companies that can sue us for hurting their profits by protecting the environment, consumers, public health and small businesses.

Because They Can

TransCanada Corporation is suing the U.S. government (us) for $15 billion in damages under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rules. The company wanted to build the Keystone pipeline all the way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico so they could ship oil to China. They also wanted to use “eminent domain” to seize land from ranchers, farmers and other property owners along the way to enable this.

Why can they do this? In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and on January 1, 1994, the United States officially became a party to the agreement. Chapter 11 of the agreement “protects investors” by allowing them to sue governments that pass regulations or laws that hurt their profits. They can bypass the legal systems of these governments and take the issue to “corporate courts” in which corporate attorneys decide if the corporation or the government will prevail.

Bloomberg has the story, in “TransCanada Files $15B NAFTA Claim on Keystone XL Rejection“:

TransCanada Corp. is seeking to recoup $15 billion for the Obama administration’s rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, in a legal claim that highlights how foreign companies can use trade deals to challenge U.S. policy.

The Calgary-based pipeline operator filed papers late Friday seeking arbitration under the North American Free Trade Agreement, arguing that TransCanada had every reason to believe it would win approval to build Keystone XL. Instead, President Barack Obama last November determined that the pipeline, which would have carried Canadian oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf coast, wasn’t in the national interest. In response, TransCanada in January vowed to use arbitration provisions in Chapter 11 of NAFTA to recover costs and damages.

The President of the United States decided that this project is not in the national interest. But “investor protection” provisions of trade agreements override our national interest. So we have to pay a company for not letting them seize public and private land to build a pipeline across our entire country so they can sell oil to China.

Countries Lose The Right To Protect Citizens

The investor-state dispute settlement provision of the TPP was among the main targets at Tuesday’s “Trading Up’ symposium on trade at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington.”

Both AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) singled out the ISDS, which Brown said “allows corporations to sue governments to pad their own profits,” as a key reason to oppose the TPP and replace it with a new trade regime that respects the interests of the people who governments are supposed to represent.

Thomas Palley, economist at the New American Foundation, said at the symposium that of provisions like the ISDS that do not really have anything directly to do with trade, agreements like the TPP “are not free trade agreements; they are global governance agreements.”

Calling them “global governance agreements,” he went on to say, would call attention to the enormity of the effect these clauses would have and would underscore the undemocratic way they are being imposed on populations around the world as well as the U.S.

Under NAFTA, we recently lost the right to, for example, tell consumers which country their meat comes from or whether tuna is dolphin-safe. Canada has been sued over their environmental laws. One company was even able to win $15 million and block Canada from stopping them from polluting the air with neurotoxins.

Under other trade agreements with similar provisions counties are being sued by tobacco companies for trying to help people stop smoking, and prevent kids from starting.

Climate vs. Profit

These “investor protection” provisions prevent governments from protecting the environment and the climate. For example, TransCanada claims that the U.S. choice to protect the climate cost them money, so we have to pay up. As economist Joseph Stiglitz said by video at the Trading Up symposium, instead of the “polluter pays” principle in U.S. law, “we pay the polluter for not polluting.” Or, worse, we pay the polluter for the right to keep polluting.

From the Bloomberg report:

The company said the U.S. spent seven years delaying a final decision on the project with multiple rounds of “arbitrary and contrived” analyses and justifications.

“None of that technical analysis or legal wrangling was material to the administration’s final decision,” TransCanada said in Friday’s filing. “Instead, the rejection was symbolic and based merely on the desire to make the U.S. appear strong on climate change, even though the State Department had itself concluded that denial would have no significant impact on the environment.”

If TPP Passes, More Like This

NAFTA covers just three countries, Mexico, Canada and the United States. The TPP starts with 12 countries, but it is a “docking agreement,” which means more and more countries can sign on as corporate power grows and is able to force them to do so. This means the number of corporations that can sue governments for hurting profits by protecting citizens and the environment grows exponentially.

Again, from Bloomberg:

Foreign companies could exploit the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to weaken U.S. environmental policy and labor protections. TransCanada’s NAFTA claim highlights the risk, said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“TransCanada’s attempt to make American taxpayers hand over more than $15 billion because the company’s dirty Keystone XL pipeline was rejected shows exactly why NAFTA was wrong and why the even more dangerous and far-reaching Trans-Pacific Partnership must be stopped,” Brune said in an emailed statement.

“The TPP would empower thousands of new firms operating in the U.S., including major polluters, to follow in TransCanada’s footsteps and undermine our critical climate safeguards in private trade tribunals,” Brune said.

The lesson here is that we must do everything we can to fight the TPP, and demand our government renegotiate the rest of the “trade” agreements the corporations got us into. But this time the agreements must be negotiated with labor, environmental, consumer, human rights and all other “stakeholder” groups at the table.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Fired Hostess Worker Becomes One-Man ‘Truth Squad’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Bruce VailJust 12 short weeks ago, Mike Hummell found himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile union fights of 2012: the nationwide strike against Hostess Brands. As a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Hummell hit the picket lines in early November in support of the union’s desperate showdown with the company famous for making Wonder Bread and Twinkies. But for Hummell the strike would become more than an angry protest against Hostess’ assault on his livelihood. It would be the beginning of a journey through the electronic media in search of fairness for himself and his coworkers.

“It was incredible to see the strike portrayed in the media as the union forcing the company out of business,” says Hummell, a receiving clerk at the Hostess bakery in Lenexa, Kan. With 14 years on the job, Hummell was dismayed that media portrayals of the struggle showed little or no understanding of the workers’ viewpoint. Adding insult to injury, many news outlets blithely repeated Hostess’ assertions that the company would be destroyed by BCTGM’s refusal to make “reasonable” compromises, he says.

The facts, as Hummell knew from his years at the bakery, were quite different. Workers had already made broad concessions to help save the company, and the goal of the strike was to the hold the line against Hostess managers intent on busting the unions and dismembering the company. While some press accounts seemed biased or misinformed, equally troubling was that the main newspaper in the area, Kansas City Star, was ignoring the story. Hummel’s wife sent in a complaint and a reporter soon contacted him.

“I got into an argument with them. I have to admit I was a little surprised when the the story came out and it was pretty accurate. They even quoted me by name,” he recounts.

Hummell then decided to make his own leap into personal journalism. Long a reader of the Daily Kos blog, he composed his first-ever post for the site. On November 18, Hummell—using the screen name Bluebarnstormer—blasted Hostess in a lengthy post titled “Inside the Hostess Bankery.”

“Wow, it just took off,” Hummell says. The post went viral, logging 261,723 page views in the following days. Indeed, it was so popular that Hummell’s work finished in second place in Daily Kos’ 2012 annual calculation of the site’s most popular reader posts. It was instant fame, of sorts. He was contacted by a news reporter for CNNMoney, and his comments received wide distribution. Hummell then received a call from a producer of the CNBC television network, asking that he represent the workers on a cable program with national distribution. He made two appearances on CNBC, during which he ably fielded hostile questions from both hosts and guests.

“The funniest thing about CNBC was the second time I was on, it was like they felt they had to have a whole crew of so-called ‘experts’ to prove I was wrong,” Hummell says. “Well, none of them seemed to know anything about Hostess.” He says he received a lot of encouragement from his co-workers in his efforts to spread accurate information about the strike, as well as from officers of BCTGM Local 218, which represents Hostess workers in the Kansas City area.

His campaign was not successful, however, in deterring Hostess owners from their plan to close the company, dismiss all the workers, and sell off all the assets to the highest bidder. Currently, Hostess is seeking final approvals from a federal bankruptcy court for an auction of the company’s bakeries and other property.

But Hummel is not finished in his quest. He recently completed work on a 27-minute video, which he videotaped (with a help of a close friend) at a union meeting for fired workers. He hopes that a continued campaign to inform the public will aid Hostess workers in what he regards as a gross miscarriage of justice in Hostess’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“It is absolutely a crime what has happened,” Hummell charges. “The owners of Hostess have lied again and again, and there has been no accountability” from Judge Robert Drain, who oversees the court case.

Judge Drain, he says, has been complicit in the abuse of the bankruptcy court process and should be called to account. Hummell hopes that full public exposure of Hostess managers and of Judge Drain can insure that some of the cash generated by the sale of Hostess will flow to the workers.

As for his journey into the world of media, Hummell says he plans to go further. His public stand on behalf of the BCTGM members has led to an invitation to work with the International Longshoremen’s Association, he says. His experience over the last 12 weeks has convinced him that it is possible for rank-and-file workers to make a difference, he tells Working In These Times.

You can contact Mike at bluebarnstormer <at> yahoo <dot> com.

This article was written by Bruce Vail at Working In These Times on February 2, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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