Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Thomas McDonagh discusses how the combination of concentrated corporate wealth and ill-advised trade agreements has allowed business interests to override the will of even strong citizens' movements:
In 2009, when the government of El Salvador refused to issue an environmental permit to a Canadian mining corporation, community activists in Las Cabañas rejoiced. For years they had been fighting a pitched battle against the efforts of the company, Pacific Rim, to mine for gold in their region - plans that included the dumping of toxic arsenic in their rivers. It was not a campaign without risk. Four Salvadoran anti-mining activists have been assassinated in the course of their courageous efforts. That victory, however, may well prove to carry a high cost for the people of El Salvador. In a legal assault filed in a World Bank trade court, Pacific Rim is now demanding $315 million in compensation payments from the Salvadoran government, an amount equal to one third of the country’s annual education budget.

That is just one example among many where citizens have fought for and won an important policy victory only to find that victory undermined by corporations using the growing web of international investment rules and arbitration courts. There are many others. Public health campaigners in Uruguay won a huge victory in 2010 when the national government passed new health laws to discourage tobacco consumption. Even though those new laws (including aggressive new warnings on cigarette packages) directly mirrored the guidelines of the World Health Organization, the U.S. corporate tobacco giant Philip Morris retaliated with a $2 billion legal action against the government.
The world today is covered by an expanding web of over three thousand bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements. These agreements grant rights to corporations and allow them to sue governments for policy initiatives that they claim interfere with their profits. The resulting legal cases, despite their far-reaching local consequences, are settled far away and behind closed doors by a small group of unaccountable private lawyers in international dispute arbitration tribunals. Flying in the face of democratic principles and judicial independence, these tribunals operate with little or no public scrutiny and where the communities directly affected are denied a voice. 
- And as Stuart Trew observes, the Cons are trying to bully Canada's provinces into accepting yet more limits on their ability to govern in the interests of citizens rather than multinationals.

- The New York Times editorial board writes that the Republicans are matching the Harper Cons in preferring that policy be based on ignorance as opposed to sound data. And Larry Elliott points out the damage being done in the UK by austerity policies similarly based on wilful blindness.

- Meanwhile, the Cons themselves continue to pressure everybody who'll listen to avoid allowing the public an accurate view of their actions. Paul McLeod reports that Peter MacKay's office strongarmed the Public Service Commission into deleting findings of outside influence in hiring at ACOA, while Steven Rennie notes that the Cons are using their committee majority to prevent any investigation into the links between Social Security Tribunal appointments and party donations.

- Finally, PLG continues his look at the lessons we should learn from B.C.'s election:
So if you catch a Conservative senator with his hand in the cookie jar, without a narrative you can only say "Look, a corrupt person!" At best maybe you can say "Other Conservatives have done similar things in the past, this implies a bad culture or bad leadership." With a narrative, you instead say, "Conservatism is all about money and wealth, so of course their politicians want money and wealth rather than to benefit Canadians. Canadians need a party that isn't about capital gains and so doesn't stock its ranks with grasping crooks."

With a narrative, going negative is not merely personal but also makes a political point. And it can also point to a positive politics rather than just reinforcing cynicism. Rather than saying "They randomly happen to be bad," you can say, "They are bad for the same reasons we are good!" It is also simply more powerful. A negative fact about someone as a random, isolated thing will have less impact than a negative fact about someone embedded in an account that makes sense of it. People live narrative, have a basic response to story.

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