(Lack of) Accountability

Why Transcanada’s $15 billion lawsuit against the U.S. is a bad omen for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Originally printed on January 11, 2016 on www.occupy.com

Reprinted on Popular Resistance

The latest expression of our corporate-controlled economic structure revealed itself last week when TransCanada, the Canadian-based energy giant that hoped to build the Keystone XL pipeline, filed a $15 billion lawsuit against the United States government for rejecting the pipeline’s construction, under guidelines set forth in NAFTA. The lawsuit presents the most recent evidence of the prioritization of corporate profits and interests over the rights of citizens in a sovereign, domestic nation. Yet instances like this will only increase with the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a statement accompanying the news, TransCanada announced that it had “undertaken a careful evaluation of the Administration’s action and believe there has been a clear violation of NAFTA and the U.S. Constitution in these circumstances.” The company also called the government’s decision to reject the pipeline “arbitrary and unjustified.”

Arbitrary and unjustified indeed. The pipeline, about 1,200 miles long, would have carried over 830,000 daily barrels of crude oil, or tar sands, from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would have been built over precious aquifers throughout the midwestern U.S., namely the Ogallala Aquifer. It would also violate tribal sovereignty and potentially pose problems with eminent domain – where landowners would be forced to give up their land to a foreign corporation under the argument that it was somehow serving the “public interest.”

How dare we, as a free nation, come to the conclusion that this pipeline is bad for our country?

But here’s the real kicker: not only can TransCanada sue the U.S. government over the costs of the project, but the company is also allowed to seek an array of damages taking the form of “expected future profits.” What we have here is a foreign corporation suing the American taxpayers because their government made a democratic, sovereign, autonomous decision to reject a commercial project, on both ecological and economic grounds. The process is occurring in an extrajudicial forum completely outside the realm of U.S. domestic law, cites the non-profit Public Citizen, “in which three private attorneys are authorized to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation.”

“The amount is based on the ‘expected future profits’ the tribunal surmises that the corporation would have earned in the absence of the public policy it is attacking,” the group writes. “There is no outside appeal. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal ‘judges’ and as the lawyers launching cases against the government on behalf of the corporations.” The private attorneys aren’t bound by conflict of interest or impartiality rules, and “if a government doesn’t pay, [the plaintiff] has the right to seize government assets in order to extract our tax dollars.”

In fact, the American taxpayers have already shelled out over $440 million as a result of these extreme investor-state systems included in many U.S. trade deals. Most of the lawsuits were filed under the domestic state tribunal guidelines outlined in NAFTA, which we can thank former President Bill Clinton for signing into law.

Prelude to the TPP?

The TransCanada lawsuit, in short, is a forerunner of what we can to happen should the TPP come into effect. When speaking in front of Nike, in Beaverton, Ore., Obama mocked individuals that claimed that the TPP and similar trade agreements were circumventing national governmental decisions.

“Critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation, food safety, worker safety, even financial regulation. This is…(chuckles)…they’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws,” said the president. He went on, “[The TPP] reflects our values in ways that frankly, some previous trade agreements did not. It’s the highest standard, most progressive trade deal in history. It’s got strong enforceable provisions on…child labor [and] on the environment…NAFTA was passed 20 years ago. That was a different agreement.”

One can argue about the meaning of the word “progressive,” but in the traditional American rhetoric, it’s probably not supposed to be used to describe a policy granting supranational judicial powers to corporate entities. To use it with a superlative is particularly unsettling. And “our values?” Please speak for yourself, Mr. President.

Obama’s statements contradict Public Citizen’s findings. Lori Wallach, head of the group’s Global Trade Watch, has indicated that “the actual language that TransCanada is using in this case…is the same language that, word-for-word, is replicated in TPP.” But more important to discuss are the implications of the corporate tribunal system that allows foreign multinational corporations to sue sovereign nations for making decisions that could, potentially, impact their profits. Businesses that didn’t get what they wanted with the passage of NAFTA have contributed to the secret crafting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its Atlantic twin, the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, or TAFTA.

It is the right of any free nation to dictate its own laws and guidelines – especially if those laws and guidelines help strengthen food and water safety, financial regulation, and environmental regulation. Supranational lawsuits like TransCanada’s directly contradict and infringe upon that right. As corporate leaders secretly tighten their grip on the economy, governments, and particularly the citizens of those governments, fear they will slowly become subservient to those corporate entities. More frighteningly, with the airtight, secretive trade agreements being crafted behind closed doors, there will be no legal or political recourse to reverse the decisions.

Government’s Newest Trade Deal is PPP: Poison the Population for Profit

Originally published on February 4, 2016 on www.occupy.com

By now most of us know about the story that has unfolded in Flint, Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who, in April of 2014, redirected the city’s water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River in an effort to save money. As a result, the corrosion from the water wore out the lead solder on the water pipes, leading thousands of children and families to be permanently poisoned.

What began in Flint, however, didn’t stay in Flint. Recently, news came out about water poisoning in Sebring, Ohio. And just last week, The Detroit News revealed that, in fact, many Michigan cities have a similar if not worse water contamination crisis on their hands. Now, incidences of poisoned water are snowballing into a colossal emblem of state governments’ prioritization of corporate interests and profit over the basic health needs of the population.

But while the issue has only recently taken the spotlight, in truth it’s a very huge snowball that is already far advanced.

What is the common thread tying together these neglectful and unforgivable actions on the part of our political leaders? Corporate usurpation of our government and, with it, a rewiring of the legislative, executive and judicial neurons of the body politic in an effort to serve none other than the 1%.

The pathological elites, those who seem enshrined in political immunity for their actions, couldn’t care less about the state of the water when it isn’t their children who are drinking it. They receive the facts well before anyone else and, true to form, they take care of themselves. Newly discovered e-mails show that Michigan officials trucked in clean water to the state building in Flint as far back as January of 2015.

Sadly, the individuals who have been working most diligently to reprogram our societal nervous system have already deflected most resistance to that reprograming. They have accomplished this by shifting the accountability for their actions on to others – otherwise known as “emergency managers” – so that despite the severity of the crime it appears that no one in the room is to blame. Not so, by a long shot.

Removal of accountability

The poisoning of our precious resources, like what happened in Flint, offers a stark illustration of not only political malfeasance – but the associated criminal immunity that comes with it.

Laws that allow for the appointment of emergency managers are a way of circumventing democracy and accountability for the benefit, and profit, of the 1%. Appointed individuals are not answerable to the public, and instead represent a concentration of power in the hands of unelected individuals instead of elected city councilors and mayors. Gov. Rick Snyder is an elected official. Darnell Earley – who moved on from water to education, and abruptly stepped down Tuesday as the emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools – is not.

According to The New York Times, “Under the administration of Mr. Snyder, who has held office since 2011, seven cities or school districts have been declared financial emergencies and placed under appointed management, state officials said. During the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jennifer M. Grenholm, a Democrat, five cities or school districts were given emergency managers.”

The irony, of course, is that if funding had not been removed from city budgets in the first place, the appointment of emergency managers would not be necessary. Some heads have already rolled: Susan Hedman, an administrator that oversaw the EPA’s regulations in Midwestern states, has resigned. Additionally, the director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, Snyder’s chief of staff and chief spokeswoman, and the Flint director of Public Works have all been forced out. But these are merely pawns shielding the true criminal orchestrators behind the scenes.

Gov. Snyder, save some massive public uprising, will not pay a significant price for the crimes in Flint because he is enshrined in the political elite and, therefore, is granted immunity. Case in point: the Board of State Canvassers recently rejected a petition to recall Governor Snyder.

He is not alone. In the same vein, President Obama will not face repercussions for backtracking on his promise to pull out of Afghanistan. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld will not be charged as war criminals for stoking lies that brought about the invasion of Iraq. BP will not face criminal charges for spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The six banks convicted on felony charges of rigging the LIBOR rate will never face criminal charges. The list goes on and on.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald beautifully laid out the two-tiered justice system in his book “Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. The Flint water crisis is just the latest extension of this already well-developed, dichotomous brand of justice.

Water is a human right and a basic necessity. The flagrant neglect to protect Flint residents’ health by elected officials, and those they appointed, illustrates the immoral if not unthinkable degree of crimes carried out in the name of profit and a corporate-controlled politics. If the people don’t demand justice from those who injured us, no one in a courtroom will.