Thursday, April 23, 2015

There is no such thing as corporate sovereignty

There are two emerging trade deals that you might have heard about by now, The TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnertip (TTIP). Each of them contain a provision for investor state dispute resolution (ISDS). ISDS allow a corporation to sue a country for billions of dollars in perceived lost profits if a corporation is denied those profits due to action by a government. These provisions are also known as "corporate sovereignty" provisions.

The problem is that these dispute resolution systems are designed to be extrajudicial and allow the tribunals to be stacked with corporate sympathizers rather than independent people we can trust. From what I've read so far, they have nearly zero accountability and tend to act in the corporate interest, not the public interest. TechDirt notes that we already have a similar provision in NAFTA, the rightly maligned trade agreement that basically erased jobs while enriching the 1%.

Corporations are not sovereign, no matter how hard you try to make them. Why? Corporations are created by governments, constructs that form nations like the United States. The United States government has sovereignty that is recognized by every nation in the world. There is nothing in the Constitution that allows the US government to confer sovereignty to any corporation. Nothing. Do a search yourself you and you will not find it anywhere in the Constitution.

Not only that, The People never delegated authority to grant sovereignty to corporations. Not in the Constitution, not in any state constitution. We know this because of men, real men, like Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. They knew the power of corporations firsthand. They met and saw the lust for absentee ownership of property, the lust for control, the lust for unmitigated power, without any accountability for errors in judgement. It's hard to expect anything else when limited liability is combined with monopoly power in the largest of corporations.

What is sovereignty and why are corporations seeking it? Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about it:
"Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity.[1] It is a basic principle underlying the dominant Westphalian model of state foundation."
Wait. What? Corporations are seeking that kind of power? Giving corporations sovereign power is like giving an alcoholic keys to moving van and a liquor store and turning off the cameras for a week. Corporations involved in the negotiations to these two treaties are seeking the power of a governing body without the accountability of a governing body.

This is the problem we should be noticing about these trade deals. Corporations are once again seeking power without accountability for their errors.

To give you and idea of how wrong ISDS is, take Germany for example. According to Yes Magazine, the German government and taxpayers have been stung by a corporate lawsuit over lost past and future profits:
"Germany is no stranger to similar dispute settlements. After the country decided to phase out nuclear power following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, the Swedish energy firm Vattenfall filed for arbitration to seek €3.5 billion ($4.6 billion) in damages, blaming the country for past and future loss of profits."
Did you notice that the corporation suing is seeking billions? This is the jackpot that proponents of corporate sovereignty seek. It's happened here under NAFTA, too. Well, in Canada. Exxon sued the government of Ottowa over a law that requires Exxon to spend money on local research, and won $17 million. Great if you're a corporation, terrible if you're a taxpayer expecting foreign corporations to obey local laws:
"An international trade tribunal has ordered Ottawa to pay ExxonMobil and another oil company $17.3 million, following a complaint that the companies were required to spend money in Newfoundland and Labrador on research and development."
What a sweet deal. There is nothing like arbitrating through a private tribunal stacked with sympathetic lawyers looking forward to employment in a corporation they helped. Is that "public service"? Is this what our leaders think we really want from them? Complete unadulterated power for corporations? I don't think so.

The president is seeking Fast Track Authority on the TPP. He will probably seek the same for the TTIP if he hasn't done so already. We can thank Bernie Sanders for throwing a stick in the spokes on the TPP deal, for at least a short delay. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the only two senators I know of who are speaking out vehemently on the deal. Why Obama is siding with Republicans on these deals is beyond me except that they also contain big bonuses for intellectual property advocates. Apparently, Obama has friends in Hollywood he would like to please.

These trade deals can be stopped. We know this because we were able to stop SOPA and PIPA, two acts designed to damage the internet. But the only way they are going to be stopped if people make themselves heard.
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